There’s always plenty to be learned from artists who have been making a go of it for decades. Just think about how much has changed in 30 years! In this episode of The Art Biz, my guest is Willie Cole, a self-described perceptual engineer with an impressive list of collaborations under his belt and even more in the works. Together we talk about the faith he has in his work as a result of being consistent throughout the years. And why he says work is a bad word and prefers to approach his studio in the spirit of play.
We discussed his art and why he challenges people to perceive recognizable objects, like shoes and musical instruments, in new ways. You’ll hear how one of his Instagram posts — where he mocked up his art as if to appear on the cover of Vogue — led to collaborations with major fashion brands. Such opportunities continue coming his way, which might be the result of his faith in his practice. Spoiler: Visualizing success plays a role.
Willie calls himself a perceptual engineer, but what exactly does that mean? (3:12)
The importance (if any) of showing the materials Willie uses to create his work, including 75 cut-up guitars. (5:35)
“Planning makes it feel too much like a job.” How Willie approaches his work instead. (11:02)
A peek inside Willie’s studio. (13:58)
Work is a bad word, but play can make your business better every day. (15:55)
Staying in a playful mindset in every stage of production. (19:15)
The value of improvisation and the value of not knowing everything. (21:08)
Willie feels like the luckiest business person in America. (23:40)
The business-minded people that makeup Willie’s team and insights into his collaborations. (25:36)
Propelling yourself forward in spite of your fears. (35:24)
The difference between fashion industry collaborations and gallery relationships. (37:51)
The music on Willie’s current playlist and what is coming up next in his work. (40:28)
“Play is play, and the opposite of play, I guess, would be work.” — Willie Cole
“It becomes work rather than play when it becomes a money-making business.” — Willie Cole
“Knowing has limitations because once you find something, you only see it as that.” — Willie Cole
“I feel like the luckiest business person in America.” — Willie Cole
“When passion marries intention and it can be monetized, it’s work but it’s also just joy.” — Willie Cole
“To proceed with confidence and fearlessness, I have to believe that opportunities connect.” — Willie Cole
“Connections open up so many doors, they keep the fear way behind me.” — Willie Cole
Willie Cole calls himself a perceptual engineer. Whether he is using the symbolism of a steam iron or the shapes of high fashion shoes and recognizable musical instruments, he challenges how we look at things. While he has had solo exhibitions at esteemed institutions such as the Museum of Modern Art, Miami Art Museum, and Montclair Art Museum, Willie embraces nontraditional avenues for his work, such as collaborations with major fashion brands. He is represented by Alexander and Bonin Gallery in New York, Maus Contemporary Gallery (Alabama), Gavlak Gallery (Los Angeles/Florida), and Kavi Gupta Gallery (Chicago). Willie lives and works in New Jersey.