Monday, May 11, 2009

Beyond Bleak: Nigel Cooke’s Compelling Characters

[“Heavy Beret” (2009), oil on linen. “Experience” (2009), oil on linen]

Dark, ghostlike figures cast a wry spell across a deft, yet turgid, realm in Nigel Cooke’s third solo exhibition at Andrea Rosen Gallery. Once symbols of the past and Cooke’s identity, these figures—like Golems on canvas—have taken on a life of their own. While there is still an element of self-reflection, the power of those figures has moved far beyond in their incremental unfolding. London-based artist Cook has transformed the role of his ripe images in an exciting and complex culmination.

On one hand the bleak world of addiction, nihilism, decay, and sorrow that Cooke brings to life, gives viewers the stuff of gruesome children’s stories. Yet, while Cooke’s work is compelling and—on some level—disturbing, it is not without humor. Abstraction melds with representation into a passionate immediacy and wonderfully shameless absurdity. While darkness on Cooke’s canvases is undeniable, there is an upside. Cooke’s work is fraught—whether unconsciously or not—with the postindustrial decay of his native northern England. However, rebirth and renewal are just beneath the figurative surface.

The transformative paintings in this show reward the viewer with pure images so immediate in their rigor. Lone male figures emerge from these large canvases amid expansive jewel tone washes—propped against trees or striding grassy hills—sporting wild beards and other metaphorical accoutrements. More than that however, they offer a vantage point in confronting cataclysms of identity and place.

Cooke amplifies and orchestrates a psychological sport in his work, which remains very personal despite its evolution. The sum total of Cooke’s whirring mind coupled with the possibility for consciousness expansion can be downright fatiguing for the viewer. His crisp visual vernacular and technical proficiency—the result of layered progress and continuity—makes this show exciting fare.

Nigel Cooke

@ Andrea Rosen Gallery

Through May 30, 2009

525 West 24th Street NYC 10011

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