Send in the Clowns:
Some artists spend their career exploring the border between abstraction and figuration, while for many others it is an either/or scenario. Not for Nigel Cooke. In his feverish show at Andrea Rosen, the nonobjective and the image clash in a preordained showdown. “It’s always a storm,” he says.
He begins by painting giant dreamscapes, populated by hybrid figures, like smoking flowers, playing out dramas that seem rooted in myth, popular culture, nature, art history, and more, though their origins are rarely clear. Then he paints over them, in vast, sweeping gestures, using a huge brush of his own design. Some scenarios are almost entirely obliterated; others endure.
Spring, featuring a figure in a chef’s hat in a Ferrari parked under a clown’s-head waterfall, looks like a carnival funhouse painted by Turner on acid. Nature Loves You (pictured), a beach scene dominated by a spider-plant clown head, smoking towers, and those huge sweeping brushstrokes, has a touch of Dalí, channeled through Harold Rosenberg, Fellini, and Wertmüller.
Though the artist attributes his particular iconography to intuition and formal decisions, it is a calculated approach that recapitulates what he calls “exhausted” genres—heroic abstraction, marine painting—and restores their avant-garde status in a modern-day mash-up. Wonder what Guston would think.
Photo: RG Image/Courtesy Andrea Rosen Gallery.