Nigel Cooke

Taken from the press release for the exhibition New Paintings at Pace Gallery, New York, January 31st - February 29th 2020.

New York — 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 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 to become energetic systems that have their own nature and inner logic.

“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.

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.
The exhibition will be accompanied by a display of etchings and monoprints by Cooke at Pace Prints. As with his new paintings on view at Pace’s flagship location, the monoprints at Pace Prints exude Cooke’s embrace of chance and intuition during his process. With these works, he first painted on a metal plate—known as a matrix—before running it through a press and contact printing to a sheet of paper. This technique mirrors the imagery on the plate, changing its impact as a final work. For Cooke, multiple passes revealed a layering process in which older marks became less potent while retaining revisions, corrections, and mistakes.