Brown Arts

Dave Cole | Memorial Flag (Toy Soldiers)

Dave Cole Memorial Flag

Dave Cole

Memorial Flag (Toy Soldiers), 2019

  • Wood, toy soldiers, paint
  • 48 x 90 x 3 inches
  • Installed in Friedman Hall, 1st floor (rotates on view with artworks by Karl Haendel, Nina Katchadourian, and Ruth Root)

Dave Cole has been reimagining the American flag in an unorthodox array of materials for nearly two decades. The newly commissioned Memorial Flag (Toy Soldiers), 2019—in which thousands of plastic toy soldiers are melted to a panel and painted to replicate the exact U.S. government specifications of the flag—revisits his initial seriesWhat appears from afar as a thickly impastoed surface is, as one moves closer, revealed to be a convoluted mass of miniature bodies, trapped and writhing beneath layers of red, white, and blue acrylic.

This unusual painting evokes a conflicting series of allusions, ranging from patriotism, sacrifice, and pride to imperialism, violence, and death. His uncanny use of a nostalgic childhood toy that is often gendered as masculine further complicates the work. An ambivalent Cole insists, “I’m not trying to tell anyone what to think. I see my job as to describe—albeit in an emotional, visceral way—the way the world is now, not the way it should be.”

Cole has fabricated American flags out of bullets and lead, as well as a massive 476 square foot flag sewn from the red, white, and blue fabric removed from the official UN set of 192 international flags. One of his most ambitious and iconic projects, The Knitting Machine, is a monumental American flag made of acrylic felt using oversize knitting needles (20-foot long poles) that were manipulated by construction excavators. Cole previously linked American iconography and the art of knitting in the series The Evolution of The Knitting Needle Through Modern Warfare, which imagines different models of knitting needles issued as part of an American soldier’s equipment over centuries of American military exploits.

Dave Cole (b. 1975 Etna, NH; lives Hudson, NY) graduated with a BA from Brown University in 2000. He has had solo exhibitions at the David Winton Bell Gallery at Brown (2015); Cleveland Institute of Art, Cleveland, OH (2012); Norton Museum of Art, West Palm Beach, FL (2011); The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, Ridgefield, CT (2009); and MASS MoCA, North Adams, MA (2005). He has been included in major group exhibitions such as the Site Santa Fe Biennial, Santa Fe, NM (2015) and 40 Under 40: Craft Futures, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC, and was the recipient of the 2009 deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum’s annual Rappaport Prize.