Many thoughts (and questions) emerged in my head after finally seeing Nigel Cooke's latest artworks at Pace Gallery and attending an event during which he talked with two of his favourite contemporary writers, Robert Macfarlane and Max Porter, about the origins of creativity, inspiration, abstractions and more.
I want to reflect on three elements that connected to me the most: the aspect of mark-making, the ‘hand-mind’ relationship and the role of layers. I know it already sounds like I'm preparing a deep psychological analysis and a whole dissertation about your work but don't worry, Mr Cooke, I'm not (at least for now).
Total rejection of human-animal-landscape-like figures in favour of absolute immersion in abstraction and 'mark-making' reminds me of Malcolm Martin's text “take a look at these hands...”. The author describes how the relationship with his hands (tools as he likes to call them) changed over the years. As a sculptor who works in wood, he talks about the simple pleasure of allowing the hands to do what they want, examining their details and deeply emerging into their embodied knowledge.
This is how I see the transformation of Nigel's practice over the past few years. It's a liberation from following the questions/concerns that the mind put in front of us and resistance from creating another story - taking what's deep inside oneself, allowing hands to fully take control and moulding it into a form - a painting. What if, at one stage, we all come to what's pure and wild but perhaps also violent and unpredictable? It's a pretty common phenomenon in art, isn't it? Saturation, reduction, saturation and reduction.
I've always found it inappropriate when a reviewer or journalist picks one sentence from someone's long speech, but one line from a talk stuck in my mind. Nigel referred to the multi-layered, almost 3-dimensional aspect of the exhibited pieces as "the ending point [of the painting] getting closer to the viewer" through another thicker layer or brighter colour.
To me, the layers in his earlier works functioned as a form of narration. They were a part of the storytelling - building tension and a mystical atmosphere. They were like curtains between the viewer and what was really happening in the painting - allowing one to see only a fragment of a whole story. Now, the artist is re-exploring the act of painting and mark-making, playing with the differences between areas covered by paint and raw canvas.