Pace London presents Roman Willow, an exhibition of new paintings by Nigel Cooke.
Cooke’s exhibition coincides with the release of a major new monograph, published by Phaidon, which will survey the artist’s career and feature new essays by Marie Darrieussecq and Tony Godfrey, an interview between the artist and Darian Leader and a selection of Cooke’s writing.
Purging the sort of nihilistic imagery and motifs that had developed as recognizable trademarks of his practice, the new body of paintings pursues a more poetic sensibility founded in the impressionistic and sensorial. In his new body of paintings, Cooke takes inspiration from his local environment and places such as Córdoba, Formentera, Rome and the Italian Alps.
He paints these scenes not as they appear but as he remembers them, working in a highly intuitive manner to transform his memory of the textures and feelings of a place into a constellation of marks that form into an evocative image. The paintings eschew realism, privileging landscapes and space that vibrate with the energy and passion of lived experience. The new paintings are characterized by wraith-like figures—mostly female, many children—amidst sensorial landscapes. Smouldering logs, sunburnt grass and wisps of smoke emanate a palpable sense of sound, smell and temperature.
These images attain their effect largely from Cooke’s instinctual and highly physical handling of paint, which endows it with an elemental quality. This quality of the paint adds an emotional resonance to the natural elements of the paintings, particularly the fires blazing on felled trees that recur across this group of work. Within the space of the image, the fire assumes a binary function, warming the figures while also possibly threatening them. Yet the physicality of the fire exceeds these determinations, projecting a sense of ardour and pulsing life that lies in the genesis of the works.
This sense of vitality is echoed in the presence of musical instruments played by the figures, which resonates with the sense of sound and smell captured in the landscapes. The suggestion of songs that cannot be heard introduces an enigmatic quality. It similarly underlines the inherent musicality in each work and emphasizes the way Cooke pushes at the expressive potential of painting, opening it to all of the senses.