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Nigel Cooke

New Paintings

Jan 31 – Feb 29, 2020
New York

Nigel Cooke is known for his evocative paintings which blend personal memories with art historical influences, classical themes with abstract interpretations of the natural world.

Exhibition Details

Nigel Cooke
New Paintings
Jan 31 – Feb 29, 2020


540 West 25th Street
New York

Above: Installation view, Nigel Cooke: New Paintings, Jan 31 – Feb 29, 2020, Pace Gallery, New York © Nigel Cooke
Also On View

(opens in a new window) Nigel Cooke
Pace Prints
521 West 26th Street
Feb 1 – Mar 7, 2020

Pace Gallery is delighted to present its second solo exhibition in New York, and fourth globally, of works by Nigel Cooke. Completed over the past year, these ten new large-scale paintings mark a significant shift in the artist’s direction toward a more performative, energetic, and abstract approach to figuration. This shift was propelled by a recent residency in the city, where Cooke remarked that “the entire philosophy of what it is I am doing has been adjusted.” These works, which reference actions, places, and people, exist as matrices in which the artist’s free and open process meets wider themes of metaphor, spirit, nature, representation, and the living material quality of paint. In this way, these new works draw on the legacies of American artists such as Willem de Kooning and Clyfford Still as well as Abstract Expressionism, British Figuration, Spanish painting, and Chinese silk painting. The exhibition will be on view from January 31 through February 29, 2020 on the first-floor gallery.

Over his twenty-year career, Cooke has used ambiguity and fragmentation as strategies in his painting, collapsing the distinction between genres such as abstraction, figuration, landscape, and still life. The exhibition at 540 West 25th Street highlights Cooke’s new methodologies which move away from narrative motifs and toward energetic systems that have their own nature and inner logic.

Nigel Cooke Discusses His Latest Works

British artist Nigel Cooke discusses the intersection of abstraction and figuration, musicality, and the power of line in his latest body of work.


Nigel Cooke, Bather, 2019, oil and acrylic on linen, 88-9/16" × 64-9/16" (224.9 cm × 164 cm) © Nigel Cooke

“I am interested in taking the painting on a journey to arrive at somewhere new, experiencing it in a linear way that allows lines to accumulate and the paint to build up in significant areas. What I end up with is not strictly a figure but a matrix of lines that come in and out of a description of human forms, but that also slips into animal, plant, and landscape intonations. These hybrid crossover suggestions make me think of certain human extremes: an athlete at full tilt, the throes of love, the staring at a void. Fangs, horns, ears and glowing eyes can somehow spring into the image too, and I allow these in as associations of the human condition, classical and mythological images of transformation and omnipotence, and metaphors for the trials of human experience that have remained relevant to western culture for hundreds of years.”—Nigel Cooke, 2020.

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Nigel Cooke, Athlete (detail), 2019, oil and acrylic on linen, 88-9/16" × 64-9/16" (224.9 cm × 164 cm) © Nigel Cooke

These dynamic compositions become transitional grids that unfix and multiply the idea of what a figure is, reflecting a complex interplay of vigor, chance, and intuition. They begin with a single color drawn in a loose structure that drives the painting process forward. Building up the canvas in lines and washes, the paintings move away from a defined image, resulting in a myriad of possibilities from the mud and grit of real landscapes to atmospheric emanations or presences. As such, they do not depend on a fixed viewpoint but drift between states, contradicting themselves over time and allowing for the possibility of transformation.

Furthering Cooke’s radical shift in his practice, the paintings were executed on raw canvas—a first for the artist. The natural linen endows the paintings with a unique brownish ground and a textured weave that is seen throughout the works. This material quality also impacts Cooke’s mark-making as washes develop into thickets of dark staining and lines that taper off and sometimes produce kasure or “flying white,” an ancient Chinese silk painting technique known for its ribbon-like strokes that sputter and appear to leap off of the surface of the canvas.


Nigel Cooke

Executed with a masterful array of techniques and applications of paint, Nigel Cooke's atmospheric and often epic compositions weave figures and environments together, reflecting a complex interplay 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.

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