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The Art of JAMA
July 10, 2013

Sunflower: Willie Cole

JAMA. 2013;310(2):126-127. doi:10.1001/jama.2013.5198

The American artist Willie Cole (1955-  ) wasn’t looking for anything in particular on the day in 1988 when he found a beat-up steam iron in the middle of a street. It was his habit to scavenge the vacant lots, abandoned industrial buildings, and thrift shops of Newark, New Jersey, for materials to use in his art projects, but he was unhappy with the materials he was currently using. Later on, when he worked almost exclusively with steam irons to make sculptures and prints, he had the strange feeling that the iron had “found” him. That day, he said, “the iron took over.” It became his signature brand, and anyone familiar with his work would naturally assume that Sunflower, an iron scorch print on canvas backed with mattress padding and wood, was one of his productions. The compass-shaped design of this print is a nexus of Eastern and Western motifs, with the East represented by a mandala symbolizing human consciousness (JAMA cover, June 20, 2012) and the West by a reference to the deep yellow sunflowers, heavy with seed, that entranced the Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh.