Josh Brooke Coté of rural Bakersville is a self-taught sculptor who cites Beatrix Potter stories and Alice in Wonderland as major influences, adding, “I’m inspired by all art that retrieves that nostalgic feeling of being a child — the waking daydream.”
While his artwork is fabulously whimsical, his artistic life also reads as if it were based on a storybook. Coté lives with his wife Angelica in a farmhouse he painted 11 different carnival colors (he says he vividly remembers, from the age of two, painting with watercolors that mesmerized him). Much of his childhood was spent on the road going to art shows with his painter father, mother, and older brother, sleeping in an old Land Rover, “the whole family jammed in there like a bunch of Muppets, [plus] two white German Shepherds,” he recalls.
When he was 21, studying Native American culture in Michigan, Coté decided to do a vision quest in search of answers about what to do with his life. “I took a sweat lodge to purify myself and then swam out to an island in a river with only a blanket and a jug of water and no food or clothing,” he shares. For four days and nights, he stayed there beneath a cedar tree with a small campfire. “I have never felt so connected to the earth and wholly human as I did during that time. One night, wild dogs swam out to the island, circled me, and then swam away.
“And then I had a powerful dream that I would become an artist — that I already was one — and I believed it.”
Coté became intrigued by the medium of wire in 2002, while using it to construct armatures for concrete sculptures. Suddenly, the tangle of metal revealed itself as sculpture in its own right. The armature, he realized, “was an embryonic sculpture that was sadly hidden as it [became] covered with concrete. Since then, I have glorified these armatures, expanding upon them.”
In a laborious process using only needle-nosed pliers, Coté twists, weaves, and cajoles recycled aluminum, copper, and steel wire until the finished piece resembles, as he describes, a detailed pen-and-ink drawing in sculptural form.
Coté’s work, decorated by numerous awards, can be found in galleries and private collections throughout the United States, including at the American Folk Art Museum in New York City. In late June, in an exhibit titled Inqwiry, the artist will present a menagerie of his hares at Grovewood Gallery. There he will also unveil new designs, including a 6-foot-tall penguin, an 8-foot-long rhino, and a large goat whose belly is filled with tin cans.
Usually Coté leaves the raw metal wire in its original state, though sometimes he intentionally oxidizes it with acid to achieve unique patinas. But he notes, “I love the nakedness of wire, the immediacy of direct sculpture. … There isn’t anything hidden. The raw creation is bare — all is there before the eyes.”
Josh Brooke Coté, Bakersville, represented locally by Anvil Arts Sculpture Garden & Gallery (9600 Linville Falls Hwy., Linville Falls, studiosculpture.com) and by Grovewood Gallery (111 Grovewood Road, North Asheville, adjacent the Grove Park Inn). Inqwiry: Wire Sculptures by Josh Coté opens at Grovewood on Saturday, June 24 and runs through Sunday, Aug. 13. For more information, see cotefineart.com or grovewood.com.