AboutPurdy Hicks Gallery is pleased to announce their third solo exhibition of work by Barrie Cooke the preeminent Expressionist artist working in Ireland today. This includes the more recent, rich and confidently liberated paintings of Sligo and luminous watercolours from his travels to South Africa.
Although he was born in England and educated at Harvard University and an Irish artist by virtue of his residency in the country since the mid 1950's Cooke knows Ireland in a remarkably intimate way. Sligo is probably the most painted Irish county, celebrated by Jack Yeats and Patrick Collins. Now living in a nearly mythical landscape, site of the second battle of Moytura, Cooke is not interested in cultural identity or cultural readings of the landscape. As Aidan Dunne, Art Critic for the Irish Times suggests, âThe specifics of place are paramount for him not because they relate to chronicles of human history but because of the primacy of the physical facts. In his fidelity to those facts he has produced atmospherically accurate accounts of particular places.' Cooke's landscapes are pristine places; the purity stems from the sheer brilliance of light and feeling of spaciousness; the colour symbolizes a landscape of desire. Cooke is and has been all his adult life, a country dweller, and a very keen fisherman.
Both facts have substantially influenced his attitude to his environment and consistently shaped his work. He is drawn to certain physical environments and to particular lakes and rivers. So central and pervasive is water in his work that it may be suggested that watercolour should be his natural medium. He makes beautiful watercolours, but generally what is most remarkable is his ability to treat oil paint like a form of watercolour and painting in exceptionally thin, diluted glazes. Cooke works on the ubiquity of flowing patterns and the generation of organic forms, affirming his instinctive feeling that there is continuity between form and process in nature.
A dark mood extends to other accounts of the environment in present day Ireland. The blighted land in the pollution paintings are anti-landscapes, chronicling the consistent degradation of once healthy ecosystems. As paintings they challenge landscape conventions but then Cooke has never adhered to the conventions of landscape painting.
As with his paintings of Borneo or New Zealand, the atmosphere of his work of South Africa has more to do with observational and geographical precision than national identity. His travels abroad reflect the same environmental predilections as Ireland does river, lake and ocean, rainforest and bog land and his enduring love of the mystical country.
Cooke's friend, Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney asserts, âMuch of his art has exhibited the fluency and first-handedness of cave art, combining the now of perception with the then of fulfilment. Whether he is painting a nude in a landscape or water-hurry in a river, whether it is an elk with thorns full of galactic light or a tench-lake sluggish with lilies and twilight, there is something at once erotic and absorbed in the pursuit.'