Marking the artist’s first exhibition with the London gallery in six years, this new body of work signals a significant moment for Cooke as he brings his expansive abstract paintings to London for the first time since his practice shifted in 2019. The exhibition’s title refers both to a world map – synonymous with travel and adventure – and the Ancient Greek Titan, condemned to carry the heavens on his shoulders for eternity, at once colossal and immaterial. Cooke reimagines the icon with a delicate, diaphanous creature, reflecting his own interrogation of the immense and microscopic systems that govern the natural world.
Inspired by Cooke’s travels and encounters with wildlife at home and overseas, this new body of work layers dynamic forms with a mutating array of animal and landscape associations. At the centre of Cooke’s practice is a fascination with the way information travels from the brain, through the body and nervous system, onto the canvas and back again. His work is a philosophical examination of the ways in which consciousness and subconsciousness interact to create a painting. Where previously his paintings would layer complex lines, forms, and shapes to create work that hovered between abstraction and figuration, recent years have seen a loosening of Cooke’s dynamic visual lexicon as the artist refines his exploration of the questions that have propelled his practice for more than 25 years. The intricate, sinuous web of lines built up over raw canvas recalls a wide array of imagery, from neural networks to crashing sea against rough sand. The large-scale paintings hold a bodily quality that relates both to Cooke’s own physical range of motion and the viewers’, as they are enveloped into the abstract field.
The suite of paintings and works on paper presented in Atlas with Butterfly began with a chance spotting of a pelican landing on the smooth surface of the Atlantic Ocean from a Miami beach. Struck by the primordial bird, the textured ripple of the water, and the jewel-toned colours glittering in the golden light, Cooke began crafting this latest body of work, explaining that the scene “moved me in ways I couldn’t figure out. … The impact of the bird had the force of truth - a brute fact, an echo of evolution, a ring of the eternal. The colours stayed pulsing in For immediate release my mind.” Certainly, Cooke’s colours throb with intensity: Tigral is a whirl of searing oranges and reds brought to life by a lightning storm of yellow.
These new works showcase Cooke’s heightened and focused engagement with colour, which lends the compositions a new emotive charge. Cooke builds his canvases in a manner akin to classical painting techniques, working from dark to light, from fine to impasto brushstrokes, to create an elegant illusory quality in the abstraction as if the paintings stretch through space. Indeed, Cooke’s exploration of line is reminiscent of pentimenti from an Old Masters painting, imbuing his works with a palimpsestic and temporal feel. Cooke’s expert combination of colours and tones is a distillation of atmospheric effects observed in specific geographical settings. With each work carrying a title that distorts Latin taxonomies, these paintings explore how the act of painting can mirror our relationship to nature. More specifically, how the natural world is not a distant vista to be observed, but an ecosystem with its own ideas about us, how it is not a site of projection and contemplation, but a mass of lives that look and think back at us indifferently. Ultimately, the painterly ambiguity then becomes a form of travel between people, continents, and species at once.