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.
Hong Kong— Pace Gallery is pleased to present an exhibition of new paintings and works on paper by British artist Nigel Cooke. The first solo show for the artist in Asia, this exhibition introduces a new body of work, in which Cooke explores the interplay between memory and invention. Beginning with his real-life experiences and visited landscapes, Cooke infuses the memories of these sites with a range of new ideas—thoughts on the nature of creativity, recollections of other personal moments, or responses to historical paintings and works of literature—culminating in paintings that present the artist’s “psychological landscape”.
The exhibition will be on view at Pace’s gallery in the H Queen’s building November 23, 2018 – January 4, 2019, with an opening reception in the presence of the artist on Thursday, November 22, from 6 – 8 pm.
“A painting happens because the place I have seen or experienced has made contact with something in my mind,” says Cooke. “Inspiration lets me see the everyday thing in the light of other, more obscure, personal ideas. It’s alright that the viewer doesn’t know where these images come from or what they are about to me. A painting for me is a conversation on the complexity of how we perceive phenomena in general. To get this across, I draw on many layers of thought simultaneously as I make each image. I want to make as rich and memorable an image as I can with what my lived experience throws up, so that hopefully the paintings become immersive and spark ideas in others.”
Constructed in spatial layers corresponding to features of a landscape—including areas of sky, architecture, geology, and plant life, as well as human figures and animals—Cooke’s paintings balance that figuration with an abstract technique that distorts the objects and surfaces to foster holistic and all-encompassing moments. While architectural backgrounds and structures have long existed within Cooke’s paintings, for this new body of work, the architecture has taken on a character of its own, with the image of the wall adopting a range of meanings and forms throughout the different paintings. While the wall “motif” has grown conspicuous in today’s political landscape as a symbol of division and isolation, for Cooke, the wall operates as a site of possibility and freedom, a place where words and images coalesce to create alternative visual languages.
The new works possess a broad array of painting styles and underscore the artist’s ongoing curiosity and engagement with the vocabulary of the medium. Using classical painting techniques, drawing, simulated aerosol marks, staining, stencilling, spraying, masking, charcoal, acrylic and oil, inks, trowelling and scraping, palette knives and oil bars, Cooke creates a wide range of marks and depth, culminating in an exhibition of rich and profuse sensory effects. The application of paint varies within each individual work and is at times dense and patinated, and at others ethereal and transient. Figures can appear solid or transparent, with light framing objects or passing straight through them, exerting power through both their presence and their absence. This lightness of touch and use of luminous colors and ambiguous forms mark new developments in Cooke’s evolution as a painter. While diverse in style and form, all of the paintings maintain Cooke’s celebrated and delicate balance between gravity and absurdity, memory and imagination.