Christopher Cook A Sign of Things to Come
Under Moon Bridge
Seeding The Way
To Long For
All images are graphite, oil and resin on coated aluminum measuring 24 x 18 in (61 x 45.7 cm) each. All works were created between 2012-2013.
I used to think of it as a mansion. Room after room down the labyrinthine halls, floorboards creaking, and in the shadows untouched by the oil lanterns, crooked staircases to countless levels below and above. On one, an empty ballroom with pointed windows coated in dust. On another, a small kitchen, dishes on the counter, cabinets askew. Dressing rooms, drawing rooms, pantries and parlors, hidden passageways to narrow bedchambers. Down a long corridor, behind a mounted peacockâ€™s long feathers, a trapdoor to a velvet lounge, lights flashing, baby grand shining. And in each room, further places for me to stow my sadness. An oak chest with ornamented drawers, or the worn cardboard boxes stacked to the ceiling, or, if there was rain outside, if when I found myself wandering the house there was not music falling quietly down any of the halls, I would open the plywood cupboards in the damp basement and I would leave a part of myself there, then I would turn and pull the lamp string back to darkness and climb the stairs to a brighter floor, to an aviary, or a greenhouse, to a room of books where the light flooded through the gray glass. This was the strange palace to which I had exiled myself. Until I opened the front door. A stream sloping into a low valley, down the open grass and alongside the one tree with leaves high and wide. There were no paths, no signposts, and no destinations in any direction, so I started walking. Rolling plains eased to hilly pastures, and, over a small knoll, scattered pines, a creek, hardy blades hanging over the slow-moving water. Stone, moss, and wildflowersâ€”white
yarrow, hawkweed, wood aster—until the forest rose up, deep and shaded, broken branches and blackberry brambles. Below an overturned oak, the earth exposed, a hole, an entryway to a hidden world below. I crawled through tunnels with no light, grit in my teeth, fingers in the loam. Mushroom, tree root, snail shell. Past a silver river, mountains of granite and dolomite, snow on the peaks and cliff sides. A cave from the cold, and a canyon to climb down, walk along its soft surface. I ate an apple in the foothills and looked at the sky, no day or night here, just a brightness that faded and soon returned. Desert dunes, quartzite mesas. Wind hitting hard on cracked clay billowing dust a mile high… Was there a beach somewhere ahead? Was there an ocean in the unexplored territory inside me? I found a pool of clear water and dropped below the surface with no sound, feet pressed whole into the mud. Was there a rail yard, a town? Were there cities? Did other people live here too? Did a coyote cut across my path on the flat prairie? I turn from these questions— I am building a telescope. I am constructing a ship. I am going somewhere far off and I will never come back. Tim Manley
The Unruly Pearl In Cook’s ‘graphites’ one hears murmurs of conversations across time and space - in the supple flickering between self-conscious surface and immersive depth, in the fleeting evocations of one medium within another - and yet it is the energy of the Baroque, in its etymological sense of “unruly pearl”, that underwrites his contemporary way of considering how forms form: how we make use of form, how form shapes how we see and who we are. Whether in earlier elaborations of opera houses, or in the sinuous form of a willow stem, his contemplation of nature’s dynamics allows simplicity and elaboration to sit side by side, a characteristic efflorescence in which forms that ‘go to seed’ expose the germ of that luxuriance. As with seventeenth-century memento mori the stems, leaves, and shards of Seeding the way, or the unfolding ovoid-acorn shapes of Cabal, compress time-frames of sprouting and decay to provoke contemplation of the viewer’s own temporal position. These images also ponder spatial transportation through the eye. What are the relationships between the “outsides” in the images - all that lies exterior to the coneform in Seeding the way, or that floats in the sky-space above the clusterings of Cabal? What is our viewpoint onto the miasmas and chasms of Gathering up, and how do we get there? Earlier tunnel and opera-house paintings unfolded the energy of the cylinder, the isomorphic vault and proscenium leading in and through. But here the frame is up close, as of a microscope, inviting us to reconsider what makes a frame and what framing makes -- a concern stretching back to Velasquez, to Webster’s revenge tragedies, or Cortona’s architectural designs. A concern with the beneficial or catastrophic consequences of framing nature links these works to Japanese aesthetic traditions. Zen ink painting and excesses of the Baroque may not sit happily side by side, yet forcing them into conversation delves into the very heart of the problematic relations between humankind and nature, in all its guises, benign and malignant. The artist’s experiences in India (from whence the ‘graphites’ sprang,
following a regimen of ephemeral sand drawings) undoubtedly informs this debate. Hence the clustering figures of Cabal in front of a surface that suggests hard-packed sand, rippled by wind or water, although the composition also recalls Italianate frescos of heavenly congregations, with animal or diabolical forms populating the lower axis. Carouse and Burlesque explicitly engage the Baroque, their dialogues reflecting upon the uses and misuses of tradition in spiritual and ethical dimensions of making, viewing, and inhabiting inherited forms of art and nature alike. The physical seating of graphite powder on the surfaces plays in Baroque fashion against illusions of depth and texture, whilst the hybridity of material and illusion, of here and elsewhere, of novelty and adaptation, suggest tenacious engagement with what it means to create “paintings” in an age of rapid media change. In Carouse the line of ludic figures may evoke putti and botanical ornament in the frames of rococo painting, and the intoxication named in the title playfully invites us to think of those figures as levitated by their carousing, while the threesome of shapes in the lower cauldron more unsettlingly suggest triads of Fates, witches, and other questionable inciters of revelry. In such ways, Cook’s colorful monochromes distill questions of re-mediation and the “immutable mobile,” as Bruno Latour calls those objects on which modernity depends for transportation, that leaves contents intact and fully uniform as they move around the globe. Like the dialectic of spatial specificity and re-mediated portability in Baroque architecture - its structures fixed in place, its details representing more labile media – they stage debates about what is anchored and what may be transported, and poised on the fulcrum of plasticity and stability in such movement, they propose points of balance. Lauren Shohet
about the artist Christopher Cook was born in North Yorkshire, England in 1959 and studied English Literature and Fine Art at Exeter University before taking an MA Painting at the Royal College of Art, London. His “graphites” emerged from three extended trips to India (1995-1997), when a series of sand drawings along the river Ganges caused him to rethink his work and depart from highly coloured symbolic paintings. Working in graphite solution encouraged a performative approach, in which provisional drawings are made onto the same sheet of paper and aluminum, and then erased and retried, until the final work imposes itself as a consequence of these ‘rehearsals’. A residency at Eden Project in Cornwall, UK introduced a microbiological and genetic aspect to his imagery, later transposed onto an enduring fascination with the Baroque. Other influential residencies include Bundanon Trust, Australia; Yokohama Museum of Art, Japan; Langgeng Foundation, Jogjakarta, Indonesia; and recently Bogliasco Foundation, Genova, Italy. His work has been the subject of major solo shows at Today Art Museum, Beijing, China; Yokohama Museum of Art, Japan; Heidelberger Kunstverein, Germany; Art Museum Memphis, USA; Camden Arts Centre London; and De Beyerd, Breda, Netherlands. His graphite works are held in major public collections including Allen Memorial Museum of Art, Oberlin, US; British Museum, UK; Cleveland Museum of Art, US; Fitzwilliam Museum, UK; Metropolitan Museum of Art, US; Minneapolis Institute of Art, US; Today Art Museum, Beijing; Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, US, Yokohama Museum of Art, Japan. Cook currently lives and works in Devon, England, where he is also Reader in Painting at Plymouth University.
acknowledgments Tim Manley is a writer and illustrator. His first book, Alice in Tumblr-Land: And Other Fairy Tales for a New Generation, will be published by Penguin this fall. Lauren Shohet has published widely on form, genre, and adaptation. Her book Reading Masques:The English Court Masque and Pubic Culture in the Seventeenth Century was published by Oxford University Press in 2013. She is currently Luckow Professor of English at Villanova University. The artist would like to thank Langgeng Foundation Jogjakarta, Bogliasco Foundation Italy, Plymouth University UK, Tony Godfrey, Alice Chung, RYAN LEE, and Susie David. ÂŠ 2013 RYAN LEE All Rights Reserved
Published on Oct 4, 2013