Part athlete, part artist, master of both: Gab Cole divides his time between the running track and the studio. When he’s sprinting, he strives to reach such a speed that allows for an ultimate meditative state. A few seconds of silence, wrapped up in frenetic energy. It’s transcendental, where soul leaves body and the mind is blank. That’s when you know you’re really flying. Maybe it’s this same sense of freedom, primitive but liberated, which informs an experimental practice where signs and symbols are remixed to the point of abstraction and 3D shapes are given space to find their own form. Cole’s motifs equally recall metal logos and Matisse, and his practice taps into the crazy thirst for brand worship that keeps us awake and poor—only to pull it apart and destroy it at the altar. Cole’s show, You Will Never Walk Alone, opens Friday 3 August at OFFSITE in Melbourne (44 Little Napier Street, Fitzroy, Melbourne).
Ingrid Kesa: As an artist, do you find Instagram a help or a hindrance?
Gabriel Cole: It can be what you want it to be. Yes, it’s toy, but as an emerging artist it’s a good way to connect. As an artist who has moved from another state, it helped me build an audience, meet peers, and figure out what the rest of the world is doing. But I also feel like it’s easy not to go to shows since you can view everything through everyone’s stories…
What are your favourite materials right now?
They’re all good. I can’t choose one, but I’m new to ceramics. It’s endless, what different things it can do.
How does music inform the final still product?
It’s the primary informer. I would say I’m more musically connected than visually connected. I always consider the structure of a mix onto the works. The best, I find, begins as ambient noise and eventually makes you move; a mix of highs and lows. My floral strokes are considered with the tone of metal whilst the background and overall layout is more of a mix of jazz. I feel like I’m talking art nonsense, but this is what it is!
Is this the first time your background in athletics seeps into your art?
Consciously yes, but I’m using it to reflect on sport as a entity rather than my own experience with it. I told myself for so long that I hated sport without understanding that I will always be a part of something to do with sport. I looked at it with a naive mindset for a long time because I didn’t want to associate myself with it. I tried to never wear brands but, fuck, the world is bigger than what you wear. “You will never walk alone” is the Liverpool motto. I understand the context of this more and more each day. Semiotics is a state of feeling associated to something bigger.
How long do you spend in the studio every day?
It has no consistency. Sometimes long days, like ten hours (no idea what I’m doing). Some days less. At least half a day is important to me. I gave my life to running for a while and I got good at it. I don’t want to do that again. Being normal is too fun, but I’m aware of how hard you have to work.
Why do you think some people are obsessed with merch?
It’s a communication of one’s ideals and personality in the same way a Liverpool logo is a reaction back to a bigger unity. Symbols provide communication, they speak of a sign or a story, they’re an entity to something bigger. My parents don’t like art, but they collected items, things [to do] with semiotics. I never understood where my taste for objects came from until now, reflecting on their house. My thing is to engage with the symbol and to pull it apart until it has no more meaning, then it can become something entirely separate.
Streetwear has freaked me out for years; it seemed like something you’re into when you’re young, but lately I’m taken by it again. I love that women are connecting with what I am designing. My merch isn’t designed for anyone specifically, just for people who want to feel loose and tough. It’s loud without being outspoken, it’s designed for a reaction of difference.