Female nude sculptures give new life to old tires

by Jordan Green

Patricia L. Cooke’s trio of female nude figures — variously seated lotus style, arced with arm extended and leaning forward in entreaty — form a stark ensemble on a riser in the atrium at 205 Collaborative in Greensboro.

Cooke, a recent Appalachian State University graduate, is working on a series of five new sculptures for a group show at Visual Art Exchange in Raleigh in April.

Bicycle tire treads are her primary material. “I’ve gotten all my tire treads from Revolution Cycles, ReCycles and Trek,” Cooke explained during an interview in her studio at 205 Collaborative. “I strip out the metal parts. I’ve saved all of them because I feel like one day I’m going to have a brilliant idea.

“I go in and ask them for all their old tires,” she added. “I usually walk out with quite a few. I’ve probably collected few hundred tires. It makes me feel good to know I’m saving them from the landfill.”

She starts with some linear sketches, mainly working with the female form. Metal rods form the spine of the figures. Then she fastens pieces of wood to the rods as a platform to screw in the tire treads. Her recycled material constitutes a durable and flexible medium that mimics the sinewy texture of muscle and flesh.

Cooke majored in painting at Appalachian, but immersed herself in sculpture after overcoming some initial intimidation by the three-dimensional form.

“I liked the feeling of messing around with power tools,” she said.

“I went to school for painting, and naturally fell into the sculpture realm of things.”

Through practice, Cooke has gotten better at understanding where to place the tire treads to realize the proper tone of limbs, heads, torsos and chests. She’s mastered the digits required to approximate hands and feet. But no matter how much she works at it, there’s no way to get around the constant repetition required to achieve the final product.

“I’ve been working really hard to get ready for this show because I’m going to be traveling across the country next month,” she said. “Once I finish these five I’m not sure where I’ll go. I’m going to take a break. It’s really tiring.”

Several of Cooke’s paintings — a female nude, portraits of women and a generous sampling of spider images — are also on display in the gallery.

“That’s something I do at the end of the day at my apartment,” Cooke said. “I don’t really consider myself a painter.”

In the past Cooke has experimented with a more spare form of human-figure sculpture. Now on display in the atrium and gallery at 205 Collaborative, the sculptures begin with the same metal-rod skeleton as the tire-tread pieces. The female figures are partially covered by pieces of masking tape and strips of canvas gleaned from paintings Cooke did of human organs. Cooke said the forms are incomplete by intention to allow the viewer to fill in the missing spaces with their imagination.

“It gives them the illusion of volume,” she said. To view Patricia L. Cooke’s sculptures and painting, e-mail the artist at