To describe Christopher Cook as a marginalised artist is perhaps to overstate the case. After all, he studied at the Royal College of Art, has had his work toured around Germany by the British Council, and his new show, "Changing the Need", is on Cork Street at Hirschl Contemporary Art. This suggests a young artist developing a strong national and international reputation. Yet, in the inspiration, aims and geography of his art, there is no doubt Cook does inhabit the edge.
Cook paints black graphite dissolved in liquid resin onto heavy-duty gloss art paper. In reproduction, these can appear like nineteenth-century silverprint photos, or x-rays, especially when Cook is at his most figurative. In life, however, they bear a passing resemblance to lithographersÕ plates, especially in the most recent pieces, in which he has begun experimenting with aluminium sheets which gives a much harder edge to his lines.
In his choice of imagery there are two distinct strands. First, there are the clearly figurative pieces, such as Metropolist, showing the stage of the Old Metropolitan Theater in New York. Based on a postcard, Cook has manipulated the scene to some extent, but has largely retained the visual quality of the original. Together with his control of the medium, this suggests he uses his technique in an almost predetermined manner. Cook admits this by acknowledging that such works are "antidotes to the frustration of following the medium blindly". More dominant, however, are works in which the medium plays a leading role, something that involves an element of accident or chance. By setting out to work in a particular environment such as Cornwall's Eden Project, without a 'script', semi-abstract and organic forms emerge naturally, as in the work Lure.
The idea of chance has long been seductive in art, and its presence in Cook's work has led critics to link him to Surrealism, a movement that made a virtue of the accidental mark. This is fair up to a point, but as Cook says, "It's all very well running with the idea that accident is important, but after a while you learn to make accidents". More instructive, therefore, is a link between Cook's practice and Idealism, the philosophical precursor to Surrealism. Cook's claim that he feels at times like "a medium at a magic show", revealing forms by "reaching into a mist", should not be read as vague language, but as echoes of the German Idealists Schelling, Fiedler and Hölderlin as they too sought to describe the processes by which we make sense of the chaotic reality of the world, and give objects individual identity.
Such intellectual affiliations are unusual enough in contemporary English art, but so is Cook's adherence to nature. Perhaps due to the historic position of nature in English art, a reactionary urban and urbane aesthetic has dominated in recent years, and, even in looking at the natural world for source material, Cook goes against the mainstream. Indeed, it is no wonder he identifies closely with Paul Nash - someone who also struggled to modernise England's nature aesthetic at a time when it was deeply unfashionable to do so.
Yet Cook's work disrupts England's traditional vision of nature as much as evoking it. There are no panoramas or vistas, but rather, in a piece such as Rocks, Light and Heavy by Turns, a narrowing of one's vision to the ground. This, Cook says, is a deliberately anti-picturesque act he learnt from a trip to India, where he saw the work of Indian miniaturists. He has no time for "pure landscape", preferring nature when it has been transgressed by modernity in the form of roads and radio masts. But transgression is the wrong word here as for Cook such things come to exist in a new kind of organic relationship to each other.
(From Art Review, November 2001)