Blum & Poe

Nigel Cooke

08 Jan - 12 Feb 2011

© Nigel Cooke
Let It Go, 2010
Oil on linen backed with sailcloth
87 x 77 inches
January 8 – February 12, 2011

Cooke's paintings, "hybrid theatrical spaces" as he has called them, often depict fantastic graffiti-strewn architecture and supernatural landscapes. Rendered in a naturalistic style that bounces back and forth between affirmation and complication of the canvas surface, Cooke's paintings hover in the vicinity of landscape, still life, portraiture, and narrative tableau without ever touching down. His current paintings similarly flirt with and confound another painting tradition, the "figure in the landscape as allegory".

Departure, Cooke's monumental three-panel centerpiece is a self-aware take on the German artist Max Beckmann's 1933-1935 triptych of the same title. In Beckmann's painting, images of torture and brutality bookend a central panel in which a dignified family sails to salvation. In contrast, Cooke's figures hang in the end panels pathetic, comedic, and tragic all at once, while in the central panel they writhe and wretch in a boat, tossed about on a dark ethereal sea. Whether abused by nature's whim or their own bacchanalian excesses, for them there is no escape. Cooke describes his reworking as a vision of "provincial philosophy lecturers sailing to Ibiza for a rave", yet falling prey to a disastrous reckoning en route in which only one "thinker" makes it to land. Cooke imagines this avatar of hubris washed up in more ways than one, dragging himself and his wreckage onto strange shores to begin the process of rebuilding and reflecting.

The other paintings in the exhibition continue to present scenes of thickly bearded "Master chefs", sailors, artists, and philosophers as they navigate the dystopian environment they find themselves in. This psychic landscape is peopled by dredged-up corpses, ancient philosophers and burnt-out fry cooks, all remorselessly overshadowed by the decaying specter of factory buildings that echo modernist geometric painting. These haunting portraits model failure, but also steadfast artistic production in the face of peril, and creativity on the verge of existential self-immolation.

Nigel Cooke has exhibited widely internationally, including solo exhibitions at Moderna Museet, Stockholm in 2007, The Museum of Fort Worth, Fort Worth, TX and South London Gallery, London both in 2006, and Art Now, Tate Britain, London in 2004. His work belongs to several public collections, such as the Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, Moderna Museet, Stockholm, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, Museum of Modern Art, New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, Tate, London, and the UCLA Hammer Museum, Los Angeles. Cooke received a PhD in Fine Art from Goldsmith's College, London and an MA Fine Art from the Royal College of Art, London. Cooke lives and works in Kent, England.

A new monograph of Nigel Cooke's work was published this year by Walther König and co-produced by Blum & Poe, Modern Art, and Andrea Rosen Gallery. It is available for purchase from the gallery

Tags: Max Beckmann, Nigel Cooke