20230511_COOKE Installation_v10

Nigel Cooke

How the World Became Natural

May 12 – Jul 1, 2023
New York
Exhibition Details:

Nigel Cooke
How the World Became Natural
May 12 – Jul 1, 2023


540 West 25th Street
New York


Press Release


(opens in a new window) @nigelcookestudio
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Above: Nigel Cooke, The Cloud that Distils a Mirror, 2023 © Nigel Cooke

Pace is pleased to present an exhibition of eight monumentally scaled paintings by Nigel Cooke at its 540 West 25th Street gallery.

On view from May 12 to July 1, this exhibition will spotlight new, vibrant canvases featuring enactments of duality, tension, opposition, and entropy. Titled How the World Became Natural, the show will coincide with the 2023 editions of Frieze New York and TEFAF New York.

Cooke is known for his evocative, atmospheric paintings that unite figurative forms and abstract elements in layered compositions. The artist’s work is informed by a wide range of subjects, including paleontology, neuroscience, classical mythology, and zoology, and his process is often guided by his experiences in different parts of the world and other autobiographical material. In Cooke’s paintings, intricate networks of calligraphic marks serve as portraits of psychological and physical spaces alike, fluctuating between states of balance and collapse.

Borrowing its title from paleontologist Loren Eiseley’s 1960 essay describing the evolution of mythic to scientific thinking in the field of natural history, Cooke’s upcoming exhibition with Pace in New York spotlights a selection of large-scale, horizontal paintings created by the artist this year. For these works, Cooke has experimented with an entirely different mode of painting to transport viewers into a world of intense colors and lyrical forms. Instead of building up his compositions with marks layered atop one another in a linear fashion, he has forged these impressionistic new works through a process of erasure. With an eye towards the relationship between the background and foreground of his paintings, Cooke uses colliding and overlapping forms to obscure some elements while accentuating others. In this way, he imbues his works with a sense of immeasurable depth.

How the World Became Natural follows Cooke’s recent solo exhibition with Pace in London, where the artist showed six vertical paintings and a group of works on paper. His New York presentation will offer a look into an expanded formal universe that elaborates on the stylistic vocabulary showcased in the English capital. In contrast to those saturated canvases, Cooke’s latest paintings also feature greater nuance in terms of color, tone, and mood. Drawing inspiration from the late works of Titian, Monet, and Turner for his new canvases, Cooke has adopted a more painterly mode of mark making. By way of this approach, his new paintings take on an immersive quality as the viewer moves closer to them, becoming cinematic panoramas when seen from afar. The artist also takes a more comprehensive and grandiose approach to space with these epically scaled works.

In constructing a painting, Cooke is always directed by his own intuitive stream of thought originating from a singular subject or personal attachment—something he has seen, read, heard, or felt. The beginnings of any given composition are ultimately replaced by a process through which Cooke understands and comes to terms with a new concept invented by the painting itself. His resulting works are mysterious and ambiguous, replete with fleeting and shapeshifting images that can be interpreted in numerous ways. Each work also bears a poetic, open-ended title that invites a multiplicity of readings.

Many of the works in Cooke’s exhibition with Pace in New York meditate on inner life and relationships—the worlds that are all one’s own and the worlds that one shares with other people. Some of the paintings are based on pairs of interlocking figures—these compositions are transformed to tell the story of a relationship through a language of flowing and breaking forms. Expressions of motion and disruption, growth and collapse cut across all of the new works in the show, with their landscape formats allowing for pronounced cycles of surges and interruptions.


Featured Works

Nigel Cooke, Neptune Grass, 2023, oil and acrylic on linen, 220 cm × 299 cm (86-5/8" × 9' 9-11/16")
Nigel Cooke, The Cloud that Distils a Mirror, 2023, oil and acrylic on linen, 212 cm × 288.5 cm (83-7/16" × 9' 5-9/16")
Nigel Cooke, Ark, 2023, oil and acrylic on linen, 220 cm × 299 cm (86-5/8" × 9' 9-11/16")
Nigel Cooke, Gods of Wine and Dust, 2023, oil and acrylic on linen, 220 cm × 299 cm (86-5/8" × 9' 9-11/16")
Nigel Cooke, Phaeton, 2023, oil and acrylic on linen, 205 cm × 278 cm (80-11/16" × 9' 1-7/16")
Nigel Cooke, How the World Became Natural, 2023, oil and acrylic on linen, 212 cm × 288.5 cm (83-7/16" × 9' 5-9/16")

Installation Views


Explore How the World Became Natural with Nigel Cooke

Our latest film offers a close look at the evocative, atmospheric paintings included in this exhibition, placing spotlight on the exhibition's large-scale works, which meditate on inner life and relationships.


‘The Complexity of Life Is Inspiration’

Nigel Cooke on Painting, Mystery, and Myth

To mark the opening of How the World Became Natural, the gallery spoke with Nigel Cooke about his painting process and the inspirations for his latest works.

Read Now

Nigel Cooke Portrait

About the Artist

Nigel Cooke is known for evocative works that merge figurative forms with abstract and elemental atmospherics. Using notational sketches and paintings made on location at various sites around the world, the artist distils his impressions of specific places and the people in them into a personal vocabulary of forms that evolves and repeats through time, with autobiographical material often infusing and directing the process.

Learn More