Exhibition: Nigel Cooke at the Douglas Hyde Gallery

What: An exhibition of the art of Nigel Cooke. (The Paradise by Ciaran Murphy is also on show, in Gallery 2)
Where: Douglas Hyde Gallery, Trinity College Dublin. See http://www.douglashydegallery.com.
When: Until July 17th
Admission Free.


Cooke Images

On Monday I popped into the Douglas Hyde Gallery to take a look at their current exhibition. I don’t see nearly enough modern art, so I was keen to check this out. Also the poster looked amazing. The main show at the moment is of Nigel Cooke’s art, I loved its unusual and mystical qualities. I particularly liked his large scale canvases, which all had tree themes, and the sense of power in his work. This is the first exhibition to have focussed solely on his tree works.

The image used on the cover of the exhibition booklet is Storm With Shattered Tree. I was immediately attracted to this work by the swirling lines, evocative of a giant sweeping wave, and the greeny-blue colours. I also love the disembodied heads Cooke uses throughout the works in the exhibition, there is something quite fantastical and eerie about them. In this painting, as the title suggests, a tree is bearing the brunt of a storm, and is collapsing. The sense of power is conveyed through those powerful swishes of blue and green, with their visible brush strokes. The branches of the broken tree splay out from the waves.

I was very interested in the comparison of this work with another painting by Cooke, which I unfortunately don’t have an image of, entitled Mimosa in Valbonne [Writer Slumped at the Base of a Tree] which used a startlingly vibrant yellow. The swirling lines in this work seemed to be the golden hair of the floating heads. I loved the power evident in both paintings, be it a crashing wave or crackling lightning, the impact of which was heightened by the scale. Both paintings had a beach setting, and figures could be seen. In the Shattered Tree painting, these figures were green haired women in blue bikinis – perhaps sea creatures (?) and in the Mimosa painting they were slumped and despondent figures, a mixture of males and females. The sense of despair is echoed in his painting White Orchard [With Party and Splint] of 2013, in which there is a large looming skull out of which heads are flowing. The base of the painting shows skulls with clown noses, perhaps intended as a sort of mocking memento mori, and despairing figures, some collapsed, others with their heads bowed. There is a potent sense of mortality, and again, an otherworldly element.

I liked the lack of certainty in these paintings. The title cards offer no descriptions or interpretations, and the paintings themselves are not directly representational. The viewer has to look closely at the works, and make up their own mind about what they signify. There are clearly deeper underlying themes to these paintings, but they can also be enjoyed on a purely visual level (especially in terms of the textures of the paint, or the movement evident in the brush strokes), or for their mysterious and disturbing atmosphere.

As well as the large scale paintings discussed here, there were some smaller canvases on show. View all the paintings from the exhibition, and some photos of the installation here: http://nigelcooke.net/exhibition/


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