More Is More
Nigel Cooke at Pace, Hong Kong
Nigel Cooke is a painter who has already established a mature and distinctive point of view for an artist who is only in his mid-forties. In a new exhibition of paintings and works on paper at Pace Gallery’s Hong Kong’s outpost, Cooke shows a number of luminous, layered, and subtly disturbing pieces.
Often rooted in memory, the work of Nigel Cooke recalls both his real-life and with his psychological experiences. As Cooke himself says, his work is a depiction of a “psychological landscape.” The results are often haunting: landscapes, bodies, skulls, flora and fauna are meshed together in ghostly layers that are the result of light, bleeding brushwork. Artist’s Garden 2 is particularly disturbing and is one of the most successful in conveying multiple scenes and states of reality and being. The large canvas shows a jungle covering a gated structure. At first it appears as an explosion of greens before you notice the subtle details of leaves, flowers, songbirds, and an earth that appears almost as blood. Outstretched and disembodied hands in the center of the composition only add to this positively weird juxtaposition of supernatural violence and Eden-like paradise.
Another work that is equally effective is Head of a Bather. This work is unlike Cooke’s massive paintings. Instead, Bather and other works on paper are small in scale, sketchy. They do not contain the multi-layered symbolism, but they are a testament to Cooke’s skill and economy as a draftsman. Bather is a portrait, but the spare depiction gives the bather an anonymous quality. In fact, the individual shown is rendered in purple, the features are blank. Eyes, mouth, and nose are smeared or erased. Sort of like fellow British artist Francis Bacon, Cooke uses color and line to express an individual’s complexities and psychological angst.
Cooke is an affecting artist, and this show is proof of that. With his ability to render his own personal internal and external experiences, and his excellent technical skills (especially with color and brushwork), Cooke certainly succeeds in creating his psychological landscapes.