Nigel Cooke (b. 1973, Manchester, United Kingdom) is known for his evocative paintings which thematically explore intersections of personal memory, art history, and the constructed and natural worlds. Executed with a broad array of techniques and applications of paint, these atmospheric and often epic compositions weave figures and environments together, reflecting a complex blend of memory, chance, and intuition. The figures that appear in them are not portraits of individuals but hybrids of many—combinations of found photographs, observation, and invention.
While constructed in spatial layers corresponding to features of landscape—including areas of sky, architecture, geology and plant and animal life—the paintings balance that figuration with abstract techniques and sensibilities that distort the language and the surface of the image. Cooke uses ambiguity and fragmentation as strategies in his work, collapsing the distinction between genres such as abstraction, figuration, landscape, and still life.
London—Pace London is pleased to announce Roman Willow, an exhibition of new paintings by Nigel Cooke. The exhibition will be on view at 6 Burlington Gardens from 21 September to 22 October 2016.
Cooke’s exhibition coincides with the release of a major new monograph, published by Phaidon, which will survey the artist’s career and feature new essays by Marie Darrieussecq and Tony Godfrey, an interview between the artist and Darian Leader and a selection of Cooke’s writing. Pace will also publish a new catalogue to accompany the exhibition.
In his first exhibition in London since 2013, Cooke presents a drastic departure from his earlier work. Purging the sort of nihilistic imagery and motifs that had developed as recognizable trademarks of his practice, the new body of paintings pursues a more poetic sensibility founded in the impressionistic and sensorial. In his new body of paintings, Cooke takes inspiration from his local environment and places such as Córdoba, Formentera, Rome and the Italian Alps. He paints these scenes not as they appear but as he remembers them, working in a highly intuitive manner to transform his memory of the textures and feelings of a place into a constellation of marks that form into an evocative image. The paintings eschew realism, privileging landscapes and space that vibrate with the energy and passion of lived experience.
The new paintings are characterized by wraith-like figures—mostly female, many children—amidst sensorial landscapes. Smouldering logs, sunburnt grass and wisps of smoke emanate a palpable sense of sound, smell and temperature. These images attain their effect largely from Cooke’s instinctual and highly physical handling of paint, which endows it with an elemental quality. This quality of the paint adds an emotional resonance to the natural elements of the paintings, particularly the fires blazing on felled trees that recur across this group of work. Within the space of the image, the fire assumes a binary function, warming the figures while also possibly threatening them. Yet the physicality of the fire exceeds these determinations, projecting a sense of ardour and pulsing life that lies in the genesis of the works.
This sense of vitality is echoed in the presence of musical instruments played by the figures, which resonates with the sense of sound and smell captured in the landscapes. The suggestion of songs that cannot be heard introduces an enigmatic quality. It similarly underlines the inherent musicality in each work and emphasizes the way Cooke pushes at the expressive potential of painting, opening it to all of the senses.
Nigel Cooke (b. 1973, Manchester) holds an MA from the Royal College of Art, London (1997), and a PhD from Goldsmiths, University of London (2004). Solo exhibitions of Cooke’s work have been presented at the Douglas Hyde Gallery, Dublin (2013); Moderna Museet, Stockholm (2007); South London Gallery (2006); Cleveland Museum of Art (2004); and the Tate Britain, London (2004). His work is currently featured in the group exhibition Identity Revisited at The Warehouse, Dallas, which is on view until 1 December.
His work is in the permanent collections of institutions including the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Hammer Museum, University of California, Los Angeles; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Sammlung Goetz Collection, Munich; and the Tate, London.
Cooke lives and works in Canterbury. This is his second exhibition at Pace.
2016. Pace London. Paperback
44 pages: 15 color illustrations; 11 x 9 inches