How Nigel Cooke has a blast in the studio
How loud music and an abundance of enthusiasm led to a life model being covered in emulsion paint
The artist Nigel Cooke tells a great story that reveals his commitment to the act of painting in the modern age. He recalls his student days, and a life-drawing class on his foundation course. Cooke was grappling with a painting of a stormy sea, the exectution of which involved a model posing as a figure in the seascape. The artist was positioned behind a screen, applying himself energetically to the task, wearing headphones blasting out loud music to filter out any outside distraction. He was oblivious, therefore, to a sudden outbreak of screaming that echoed through the studio, carrying on painting in broad strokes with unbridled enthusiasm regardless. Eventually his tutor came round the screen and removed his headphones. “It turned out the emulsion paint was flying all over the life model,” recalls Cooke “there was turgid green and white paint everywhere. She was covered in emulsion."
This is just one of many musings in our excellent Contemporary Artist Series study of Cooke’s work in which co-authors Darian Leader, Tony Godfrey and Marie Darrieussecq expertly profile a painter whose versatility is matched by the critical consciousness with which he has explored his art. Not that he is by any means a schematic painter, rather one who applies himself with a deep-seated curiosity, a controlled passion. This is certainly true of his “Drunken Painting” phase from about 2006 onwards. During this period, a recurring figure appears, the artist as everyman, perhaps, roaming an increasingly wild canvas in various states of existential distress.
In Artist’s Garden (2006), an early example of Cooke's “Drunken Painting”, a red headed figure appears in the corner, approaching a teeming, abundant entanglement of motifs and half-formed ideas proliferating like wild plants. The artist figure stares with a similarly forlorn expression to that of Vincent Van Gogh in his Self-Portrait With Bandaged Ear, following his famous act of self-mutilation. The energy applied here seems designed to spill off the wall, exceed the canvas, leaving the viewer feeling as metaphorically drenched as Cooke’s unfortunate model in his student days. Want find out more? Check out our Nigel Cook Contemporary Artist Series book.