Nigel Cooke’s known for his lush, emotive paintings, each filled with dreamlike scenes rendered with powerful brush strokes steeped in shadowy colors. His show, opening today at Andrea Rosen’s New York gallery, gives his massive canvases (some over 9 feet tall) the space they deserve. It also marks the launch of the London-based artists’ first book, Words. In honor of both, we asked the artist for his thoughts on a handful of topics:
On nature and industry:
“Nature takes the role of judge in the work, inundating, obliterating even humiliating the characters who struggle against it. It might be a storm at sea, a jungle or a bolt of lightning—each way the forces of nature threaten the stability of the figurative imagery. It’s a way of getting mixed feelings into the work, of setting something up to knock it down.
Industry comes in as a function of this nature—my labors in paint can be compared to weather fronts that impact on the scenes. But labor is also what creates the scene in the first place. So really invested time in a painting is always a question, something to be ambivalent about, a double edged sword.
Industry in the sense of big business is loosely present in the smoking factories that sit in the distance of my images—they’re actually parodies of my studio, smokestacks that belch paint smoke which contribute formally to the composition as well as thematically pollute it.”
“Making paintings for me is about experiencing the unknown and the unthought—words get me out of that hole and help me learn what it is I’m doing. I’ve always envied the multiple levels of thought you can get with books, and have striven to do this with images. But writing alongside painting gives you a different access to your brain, so it feeds me ideas in unpredictable and stimulating ways.”
On hiw new work:
“For the first time the show focuses on the obliteration of imagery as a route to creating new imagery. My ambivalence towards the characters and events in the scenes is brought to the center of these works, which results in a stand-off between abstraction and figuration. But they are not in straightforward opposition, their antagonism is held in a balance, maintained as a question, an active tension. They are about everything existing on the brink between states.
It’s also about relationships [that are] thought, felt and seen between me and my work, my wife and family, and the natural world. I turn it all into a tangible place so I can pack as many layers into it as possible. I’m creating a holiday resort out of my own brain.”
Cooke’s show is up through May 18, 2012 with an opening reception tonight from 6-8PM. Andrea Rosen Gallery is located at 525 west 24th Street, NY, NY.