Archives for posts with tag: David Cook

In early October 2019 David Cook and I visited Peter Doig:Paintings at Michael Werner, and Cy Twombly: Sculpture at Gagosian, both in London. Afterwards, we discussed the shows by email. The following is the result of several weeks of electronic toing and froing...part two

Peter Doig
“Untitled (Wheelchair)”, 2019
Oil on linen
102 1/2 x 78 3/4 inches
260 x 200 cm


I don’t know – could it be that the sunshine has burned off the early mist to reveal a new kind of daylight in the paintings? The colours are not bolder or brighter, but there are bigger areas of a single colour than I remember in the earlier works. The compositions seem starker, more striking and consequently more memorable. To me these paintings are like crystallisations of the promise of the earlier works – as if his vision is clearing and he no longer feels the need for so much decoration.

Let’s talk about Untitled (Wheelchair), which exists in two versions in this exhibition – one much smaller than the other.


I am really struggling with the space and geometry of Untitled (Wheelchair), which seems perverse and incoherent, particularly the larger version. Yes, there is a certain warmth to it with the colours and the setting, and the gesture of the man pushing the chair across (I am hoping not just into) the road.

I have problems though. The lack of shadows flattens the space yet the perspective is so forced, and the clash is very uncomfortable. My eye just can’t make sense of the wall with the railing.  The road does not feel flat, it seems like some giant wizard’s hat on top of the guy in the wheelchair. The wheels of the chair seem drawn with a kind of geometric care that is jarring because it is not echoed elsewhere. The shape play with the roadsign and the pole dead centre of the top of the canvas feels ungainly. The hills and trees have paint handled in a more doigy kind of way, suggestive poetic but they sit uneasily on the corner, penned in behind the red railing of the forced perspective wall.

Milton Avery
Strollers by Sea
Oil on Canvas
28 x 36 inches

The flattening approach can work, but here it feels too clunky and subverted by extraneous naturalistic detail that destroys the effect. (Thinking of those wheels and the railing here). For contrast, this Milton Avery picture from 1936 (!). It has light, atmosphere and character but does not sacrifice its central abstract ideas to figurative description. Or at least not so much – it is a tightrope. The handling of the paint is very flat too, but there is a design to the depth and movement of it, which sells the shapes as a pure composition. Then the rather lumpy and odd drawing of the figures takes on life and believability too.


As always I like the “irritations” a lot – for me the sum of the things you describe as problems adds up to an image brimful of life and questions. There’s a tenderness to the image that is piqued by the jarring juxtapositions of for example that geometric wheel with the sumptuousness of the standing figure’s coat and the ambiguous expression on the face of the man in the wheelchair. Yes, I love the echo of Doig’s earlier paintings in the hills and trees, but there’s a melancholy sweetness to the way he undercuts it with the pseudo-Expressionist handling of the road at the foot of the picture. The image is deceptive – it looks like a simple design, but it’s teeming with little tensions.

It makes me laugh how opposite our views of this painting are! I like it so much it has replaced the image that springs to mind whenever I hear Doig’s name.

Going back to your earlier point about it looking like any old Expressionist painter’s work – this is a question we’ve not asked before – is that a bad thing?

To be continued…


Part one of this conversation can be found here.


In early October 2019 David Cook and I visited Peter Doig: Paintings at Michael Werner, and Cy Twombly: Sculpture at Gagosian, both in London. Afterwards, we discussed the shows by email. The following is the result of several weeks of electronic toing and froing.

Peter Doig, “Musical Equipment Ltd.”, 2019
Oil on linen
50 x 38 cm


We have been looking at Peter Doig’s work for a long time – since before he won the Turner Prize (1994), and became internationally known – even becoming the most expensive living European artist for a time. Back in the 90s, I was struck by a quality in his work that was clearly determined to go its own way, but seemed insular and alienated to me – almost like outsider art. What is it about his work that has so engaged people since then – has it changed or have people become more receptive to his style?


Yes, there’s quite a difference in style between these paintings and those he made in the early nineties. The earliest I remember were based on family snaps and shots of landscapes. They seemed to have some kind of biographical significance for him and were painted in a heightened form of realism where some areas of colour were pushed to supersaturated extremes – combining figurative and abstract to create something rich and exciting to look at. At the time painting as an activity in itself was not popular – there were very few painters getting exposure who weren’t “slumming it” as part of their conceptual practice. Peter Doig’s work was like a breath of fresh air – they were just undeniably great paintings. And I think he is partly responsible for resurgence in interest in new figurative painting.

The subject matter may seem insular and alienated, but the way he painted those works meant that they teetered on the edge of the decorative, whilst being rigorous, mysterious and contemporary – a rich visual stew and it was inviting – even in dense almost monochromatic images there were fresh, bright areas of colour, and the viewer could identify objects and people in the images – there was an “in”. They are pleasurable things to look at – I think that probably helps a lot.


You are absolutely correct to say that Doig was flying the flag almost alone for painting in the nineties, when it really was deeply unfashionable. His early work was groundbreaking – or felt that way. He was making conventional easel paintings in a straight up modernist style. What he offered us was an image, albeit enigmatic, but one that was free of postmodern irony. There was no ‘twist’ – and his materials were very traditional. But somehow his work had absorbed all sorts of other things: he was contemporary and forward looking, not a reactionary throwback.

Peter Doig, Spearfishing, 2013
Oil On Linen
288 x 200 cm

That very immediate and personal idea of a talented individual realising a vision remains at the heart of the popular idea of what an artist is, and does.

Doig is a visionary artist – and for a visionary artist, when the vision is lost there is not a lot to fall back on. And it might not come back. For the artist of process (like Gerhard Richter for example), everything is thought out beforehand so quality is more consistent; easier to admire, but harder to love. Doig is easy to love when the vision is there, for sure.

But now I wonder if all those layers – all that atmosphere of the Canadian lake mists – has been blown away in the Trinidadian sunshine. He has been resident there for 17 years now, and I feel these new paintings do not have complexity of the night fishing series,  They are still easy on the eye – bright colours, the allure of beautiful bodies and the sea, but they seem more or less like the work of any old expressionist artist. Is that fair comment?

To be continued…

Here’s the second part of a conversation with David Cook about Pierre Huyghe and Walter de Maria…

London Eyeball

Screen Shot 2019-04-29 at 22.03.44 Pierre Huyghe Uumwelt (From the Serpentine Gallery Guide)

After a fairly long break Richard Guest and I visited two shows – Pierre Huyghe: UUmwelt at the Serpentine Gallery and Walter De Maria: Idea to Action to Object, at Gagosian, Grosvenor Hill. This is the resulting email conversation, in two parts. You can read part I here


Making a simple comparison between the two exhibitions, Huyghe is ceding his creativity to a machine, with the expected in/ un-human result, whereas de Maria’s work is not only driven by utopian ideas, but is all on a human scale – there are balls to pick up and drop, human interaction is imaginable (and encouraged in his drawings) and looks like it would have a satisfying tactility.

I’d like to see more work by Huyghe to get a better sense of where he’s coming from – is it all at this vast remove? The…

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David Cook and I have been to a couple of recent exhibitions. Click below to read part one…

London Eyeball

Walter de Maria at Gagosian Grosvenor Hill

After a fairly long break Richard Guest and I visited two shows – Pierre Huyghe: UUmwelt at the Serpentine Gallery and Walter De Maria: Idea to Action to Object, at Gagosian, Grosvenor Hill. This is the resulting email conversation, in two parts.



Visiting these two shows was not any kind of programmatic choice – they aren’t related for me in any way. I think we both found the Huyghe show hard to digest; but, rather against expectations, the de Maria was quite playful in a laconic sort of way.

Walter de Maria is one of those artists who seem to embody the pioneering conceptualism of the 1960s and 70s. Rare pictures of him seem to give off both the romantic elan of early Surrealists and Dadaists but also the gravitas of the Los Alamos bomb makers and other highly serious types…

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In early June 2018 David Cook and I visited Joseph Beuys: Utopia At The Stag Monuments at Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, London, 17th April to 16th June 2018. Afterwards, we discussed the show by email. The following is the result of several weeks’ electronic toing and froing.

David: It’s time we went upstairs, I think. The Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac is a generous refurbishment of a sumptuous town house in Dover Street in Mayfair – one of the most expensive areas in the world. But we are swimming in space as we go up the double staircase. There is a ‘sparse hang’ along the corridor of a few multiples and drawings, with the white walls and the oak floors it all feels very much as it should do – the works have plenty of space, but you can still get close. Then we arrive at the end room…

Richard: Having seen Feldbett (Campaign Bed), 1982 on the ground floor, which has a quiet but authoritative power (and that familiar sense of commemoration that accompanies a lot of Beuys works), I was expecting something good for the last room of the show. The Library Gallery – the main room on the first floor of the gallery contained five works: Tisch mit Aggregat (Table with Aggregate), 1958-1985, Hirsch (Stag), 1958/1982,  Boothia Felix, 1958/1982, Ziege (Goat), 1958/1982 and Urtiere (Primordial Animals), 1958/1982. Taken in isolation I’m sure these sculptures have the power to enthral, to drag you into their strange world/ mind-set shared with Beuys’ best work. For me the arrangement of the works – dotted around the floor in close proximity to each other dissipated the works’ energy – their individual meanings seeming to bleed into and cancel each other out. The collected works did not work as an artistic siphonophore, despite their uniformity of appearance. The room was difficult to look at, and digest in any meaningful way and I think it was a missed opportunity. At Tate Modern the placement of the works in the Beuys room seems to work to the individual works’ advantage rather than against them (major works are given room to breathe). What did you think of the final room?

David: For me the last room upstairs was a curatorial misstep. I was baffled, almost as if I suddenly couldn’t understand a language I knew well. It made me aware of how any exhibition depends on tension between the exhibits – but if they actually mix and fight each other then the net result is a nullification. A bit like mixing colours in a painting…if you mix them too much all you get is a grey mess. And I speak from experience! I wonder if that kind of separation was why Beuys himself was so fond of vitrines? They are almost like mini-installations.

Richard: Yes, the vitrines are like a discreet closed world – the box frames the objects inviting the viewer to consider their function and their relationship to each other. The final room of this exhibition does the opposite – it presents a chaotic jumble of objects – and reminds me of sightseeing in the Louvre – you get to half-glimpse the Mona Lisa in a sea of people – not so much an art experience as a box ticking exercise. Utopia at the Stag Monuments: yep, seen that.

David: Maybe the arrangement of objects is shamanistic magic. Unless you are a member of the Shaman’s Guild, an arrangement of objects is just…objects.
If you are a bona fide shaman, however, you can make the objects talk to one another and open doors in reality through which we glimpse meaning. Or endow them with a kind of residual charge by using them in a certain way – so that they become an art battery where creative power is stored. When this happens it is as if Beuys’ strange rituals and fetishes can connect the present to the past. I don’t think of Beuys as New Age in any way, but he certainly was able to take advantage of interest in atavistic spirituality to draw punters in to his circle. The spiritual void of our modern tribe is so huge and we feel it keenly; yet we are so close, not only to our ancestors, but also to the energy of the Earth and many other eternal things. This for me is Beuys’ legacy now that his charismatic presence is gone.


In early June 2018 David Cook and I visited Joseph Beuys: Utopia At The Stag Monuments at Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, London, 17th April to 16th June 2018. Afterwards, we discussed the show by email. The following is the result of several weeks’ electronic toing and froing.

Richard: One of the things that makes his work so magnetic is the fusion of the commonplace with the spiritual and intellectual – as if every object he touched was a means of deep psychological and material exploration for him and (possibly as a byproduct) a way to awaken curiosity about the physical world in the viewer. There’s a roughness and vitality to the drawings that makes them very difficult to co-opt for commercial purposes. How much do you think Beuys’ aesthetic/ anti-aesthetic has entered the vocabulary of advertising and media (I remember in the mid-Eighties Green from Scritti Politti citing Beuys as an influence on his record cover design)?

David: I’m not sure if Scritti Politti album covers form part of the advertising mainstream…but I think Beuys did a whisky commercial in Japan once? Or was that a myth? I don’t think that his style – if you want to call it that – could ever really work in advertising because he is not glorifying or glamourising his subjects. He is sort of Beuysifying them – the object is somehow turned into a stand-in for the physical properties of its construction, or its essence. He uses objects to translate his vision for us mere mortals, who cannot apprehend the scope of his abstract vision otherwise. Hidden from view but revealed to us by a Shaman (Beuys) through the change wrought to familiar objects – he has reinvented the role of priest and intercessionary between us and the divine. It’s not quite in the same vein as Jasper Johns who seems to borrow familiar objects as much for their formal aesthetic qualities as their familiarity. I would argue that advertising creatives have almost a diametrically opposing function – also reinventing priesthood in their own image, but very much in the pre Reformation sense of a priesthood that offers you the chance to buy indulgences – which is what they were really called – which gave you forgiveness and entry to paradise. Beuys is a modern day Luther ranting desperately against this lazy tyranny of materialism. Do you think his work has been absorbed into the commercial mainstream?

Richard: Nothing can be forgotten on the internet (if this is genuine): Completely agree with you about advertising creatives.  And think that maybe his use of objects is impossible for the mainstream to co-opt without creating some kind of weak pastiche. The aesthetic operation is what I think Green used.

For all the reasons you listed I think maybe Beuys is inimitable – I can’t think of a single other artist who makes work like him and he doesn’t seem to have any followers. I wonder if remaking yourself as a shamanic figure has this effect. There is a point in the show where Beuys’ work seems to change from being fairly straight representations of the earth goddess, stags etc to looking like he has been channelling some kind of outside force to create the work, inhabiting or being inhabited by pagan forces. I wonder whether Beuys considered this an artistic breakthrough or just another step in his creative evolution. Once he starts making non-objective work (i.e. not picturing something) Beuys seems very present in everything  he makes. Is everything from this point on a performance/ action or a by-product of one?

David: Looking at the Scritti Politti cover, it does remind me of Beuys’ work, at least superficially. The black rubber stamp in particular suggests more than an accidental resemblance. That may be as far as the similarity goes though…

As I recall they chose their name just because they liked the way it sounded, rather than what it actually meant. This might be the same story?

From my understanding of shamanism (looking at Beuys’ work and watching the Mighty Boosh), that is exactly what it is – a progressively closer identification with an object of fascination and power until the Shaman’s own identity is changed. You start by wearing the clothes as a costume but they eventually become your skin. Beuys’ actions are part of this process, but I would characterise them as rituals more than performances. I’m not sure they need an audience. If you saw one of Rauschenberg’s performances, you would feel as if you had seen a theatrical show, but if you had seen one of Beuys’ you might feel like a traveller in a remote region, stumbling across the priest of an obscure cult.

There have been one or two brave souls who have tried to follow Beuys down this kind of path to make Art, but without the conviction or aesthetics, and they disappear without trace. Richard Wilson is probably the only one I can think of who comes close, but he is so English – and (successfully) theatrical in his performances.

To Be Continued…

In early June 2018 David Cook and I visited Joseph Beuys: Utopia At The Stag Monuments at Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, London, 17th April to 16th June 2018. Afterwards, we discussed the show by email. The following is the result of several weeks’ electronic toing and froing.

David: This show was like a refresher course in Beuys for me. I think we have both been big fans of Joseph Beuys for a long time – we became interested in him when he was still alive and making work. He was such a charismatic, individual artist with such a radical program. I sometimes try to explain his work to people who don’t know it, and it’s not easy! The first thing that I saw of his was Plight at the d’Offay gallery back in 1985 – one of the most powerful art experiences I have had. If I had seen the works in this show first though, I might have been a bit confused. Do you remember seeing his work for the first time? Would this show have been a good place to start?

Richard: The first Beuys works I saw were at Tate Britain when it was the Tate Gallery in the mid-80s – a couple of vitrines and a felt suit hanging on the wall – the objects weren’t that spectacular in themselves, but I think that’s what ignited my interest – they didn’t look like art. I bought a poster of one of Beuys’ sludgy green paintings and read any books about him I could get my hands on. I’m still excited to see his work. But I wouldn’t introduce someone to his work with this show – unless I got them to stay downstairs! Shall we talk about the drawings?

David: Beuys’ drawings are his fundamental tool. They translate experience in a completely individual way. And they have such a unique range of feel, they seem to be the work of many different artists. Some of them seem to be diagrams of the impossible drawn by an insane mind, or an alien.  Some of them are so faint it’s almost impossible to see them, others are just plain slabs of oily floor paint on paper. One thing I love about them is their museum standard frames that Beuys insisted on. The frames unify these disparate, often scrappy excrescences into a body of work and force you to appreciate them as the product of one mind and one hand. Their breadth of subject is extraordinary. It is as if he has considered everything in a para-scientific way. He uses art to describe the world – not just its surface appearance, but its history, natural forces seen and unseen, and the structures of human society – reinventing not only art but also science in a sort of philosophical slap around the face. Which is more fun than it sounds.

I once showed a book of Beuys drawings to someone who only drew from life, but was very open minded. He took a look, scratched his head, then took another look and said: “Well, he certainly has great taste…” The drawings certainly do have huge and sophisticated aesthetic appeal which is easy to overlook when you get caught up in the showmanship of the performances and installations, yet for me underpins Beuys’ whole vision – his crazy (or not so crazy) agenda for putting art at the centre of society. Knowing your preference for the awkward and the unbeautiful, do you find them, er…nice to look at?

Richard: Yes, I do! Beuys seems unconcerned with aesthetics (I think they’re more about getting something down on paper directly and without too much intervention), and because of that they are very liberating to look at in that you don’t have to appreciate their craftsmanship. I’m a big fan of the stains and smudges he made. Several of the drawings in this exhibition suggest ideas or representations, but don’t  deliver a “finished” view, leaving room for the viewer to complete the picture. Which makes the drawings very democratic (and in keeping with the idea of putting art at the centre of society). And I think you’re right about them being at the core of Beuys’ practice – this is the quiet, intimate space where he worked things out, whether in a thoughtful, representational way or as the vehicle for the mark. Are the drawings rehearsals for his other work?

I don’t think the drawings are rehearsals so much as explanations. Beuys was very dedicated to teaching and the drawings often have the quality of diagrams or notes. But I don’t think you can hope to understand them in a rational way, any more than you can make a working battery out of an orange. There is some kind of aesthetic alchemy going on which attempts to connect different areas of human thought – e.g. the spiritual and the political – through art. A lot of this is driven by the use of materials to effectively represent themselves – floorpaint, beeswax, blood, felt and copper all have their place. I can’t think of another artist for whom the diversity of physical materials (and the uses to which they can be put in the real world) has been so critical – and it carries across from the drawing into the sculpture. In fact I am not entirely sure that Beuys himself would have really distinguished between the different forms.

To Be Continued…

zzzounds ad 4David’s turn to review one of my records…

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My turn to review one of David Cook’s records…

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Zzzounds! 3

David Cook reviews one of my favourite albums…

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