It is important to me to have a very grounded-in-reality language, so a raw orange or raw steak becomes, to me, like a lung or a heart, and hopefully creates more poetic connotations that swirl around that relationship. -- Carrie Cook
In Gallery II, Goldfinch is excited to present “Second Chakra,” a solo exhibition of new paintings by Los Angeles- based artist Carrie Cook. This is Cook’s first exhibition in Chicago. The exhibition is on view from Saturday, January 14th through Saturday, February 25th.
Using a combined visual language of representation and abstraction, often achieved through unexpected cropping and perspectival distortions, Cook destabilizes the familiarity and security of everyday scenes and things—objects we assume are easily recognizable for their forms and functions, like food, table-settings, and vases. Charged with a sense of dislocation and mystery, though rooted in real-life, Cook’s work exposes overlaps between the past and present, and the unexpected associations we make through memory and intuitive gestures. The paintings in “Second Chakra” are threaded together by the color orange, which Cook explores both as the literal fruit, unfurling and changing over time, and as the essence of the “open chakra” itself: a glowing color of sun, fire, sex, intimacy, inner life, and connection.
Suspended in groundless space, the objects that Cook paints feel partially estranged from ordinary life, as though examined psychologically as well as materially. “I’m drawn to the emotive, inner, meditative, and symbolic nature of abstract work,” explains Cook, “But I follow more external breadcrumbs that I hope are making up a symbolic vocabulary.” The push-and-pull between abstraction and representation, with ordinary objects as her visual anchors, points to the artist’s interest in probing at the emotive, meditative, and even dreamlike qualities of these everyday scenes and the associations they might prompt. “It is important to me to have a very grounded-in-reality language, so a raw orange or raw steak becomes, to me, like a lung or a heart, and hopefully creates more poetic connotations that swirl around that relationship.”
In Cook’s paintings, the vibrant, fleshy fruit of an orange or the glow of a sunset in a rear-view mirror act like glowing embers in paintings that are often steeped in inky black space. “I think of a lot of my works as night scenes,” Cook notes. “I do a lot of painting at night, and I think the darks in contrast with the orange give the paintings this otherworldliness.” This balance of light and dark, as though the paintings are illuminated by the objects within them, speaks more broadly to Cook’s interest in the relationships and parallels between the external nature of an object and the mysterious, unseen spaces of its interior. In her paintings, these relationships, exchanges, and oppositions hold a certain reverie, as Cook probes at deep psychological and emotive ties between us and the seemingly ordinary matter than makes up our daily lives, memories, and dreams.
Carrie Cook, born in Nashville, TN (1984) currently lives and works in Los Angeles, CA. She holds an MFA from the University of Houston and a BFA from the University of Texas, Austin. Her work has been exhibited at venues such as CFHILL, Stockholm, Night Gallery, Los Angeles, Make Room, Los Angeles, Tyler Park Presents, Los Angeles, Below Grand, New York, Dread Lounge, Los Angeles, Lawndale Art Center, Houston, and Blaffer Museum of Art, Houston and featured in publications such as Art Maze Magazine and Contemporary Art Review Los Angeles. She will present a selection of new works on Zwirner Platform in Feb 2023 and her work will be included in the upcoming issue of Bat City Review, a literary journal out of the University of Texas.
A CONVERSATION BETWEEN CARRIE COOK AND CURATORIAL DIRECTOR ELIZABETH LALLEY
Elizabeth Lalley: I want to start by asking a bit about how you approach the image-making part of painting. Your paintings are representational, often depicting familiar objects and events (like cups, food, water, sunsets) but they often balance this with an abstracted approach to space and depth. There is often this groundless quality, as though these things are floating in space together. Gravity doesn’t apply in these works, and the effect is something that feels a little dream-like, as though these works are speaking much more to psychological states than they are to material realities.
Carrie Cook: I've always been attracted to abstract and abstract expressionist work, initially I wanted to make fully abstract paintings. I was enamored by artists such as Joan Mitchell and Blinky Palermo for their use of color, their emotive ways of working as well as the symbolic, esoteric, “inner compass” nature of their work. Quickly, my mode of making abstract paintings became a somewhat opposite approach, I would zoom in on certain subjects (like a night sky or surface of water), somewhat in the spirit of Vija Celmins.
As I grew in my ability to represent the subjects I'm depicting, the relationship between abstract and representation got more tangled. I’m very drawn to the emotive, inner, and symbolic nature of abstract work, but I want to follow more external breadcrumbs and make up a symbolic vocabulary. It is important to me to have a very grounded-in-reality language, so a raw orange becomes like a lung or a heart and hopefully creates more poetic connotations. The groundlessness you mention, I think, points to the psychological, inner realm.
EL: Can you talk a little about your approach to these compositions? How are you thinking about capturing in detail, for instance, the juicy flesh of an orange but also considering how this thing feels like it’s existing somewhere otherworldly, familiar as it might be as an object?
CC: I don’t do a lot of compositional planning… I think the diving right in, very direct approach to getting something onto the canvas and letting the compositions find their way intuitively as I go allows them some strangeness and, in that process, I find solutions that I wasn’t expecting initially.
I think of a lot of my works as night scenes and I do a lot of painting at night, the darks in contrast with the orange are giving it some of the otherworldliness you are asking about. I was attracted to the orange for its glowing ember or jewel-like quality.
EL: I love the idea of the orange as a glowing ember, within the dark, nightly spaces that occupy so much of these paintings. There are moments, too, when it feels like the painting is being illuminated by something outside of it or by an unknown light source–as though we’re shining a flashlight on that plate of orange slices in “Two Plates, Two Cups,” and suddenly exposing it. The light sources within these paintings are fascinating to me, because they feel so true and embodied to me as a viewer, like that final blaze of the sun before it sets, which you almost have to squint to look at in your painting “Thanksgiving Sunset.” Can you talk a little bit more about this relationship between light and dark, and the temporal quality that you capture in these paintings, like the sun setting, the orange drying and colors intensifying, the candle burning down?
CC: I’m in an astrology class this year and in astrology, you look at the year as the "wheel of the year", the solstice from December to June is the “light half” of the year and June to December is the “dark half”. When you pass the September equinox you are in the “dark-dark” quarter of the year which is when I was making most of the works for this show. I wasn’t planning this unfolding of time to be the subject it is in the show but it fits my ideas about painting in the dark, painting itself being a way of getting into the internal space, unconscious or dark part of the brain and psyche. Which relates too to the second chakra idea, a chakra being an “inner energy” or inner light. In astrology, the seventh house is the house of partnerships, and is also the place where the sun sets…
EL: You have an ongoing practice of collaging pictures that you’ve taken into compositions that often inform the ways a painting might begin. These collages might be based on color or a common thread like water, but they also force surprising, unlikely visual relationships together, and these relationships, in turn, often explain why there are surprising visual overlaps or combinations happening in the paintings, too. How does this practice of picture-taking and image collaging inform your painting practice? Can you talk a little about the process of translating moments in these collages into paintings?
CC: I started making collage works early on, before I had the means to keep up a studio for oil painting. I used collage as a way to track my art ideas, like a sketch book or as a drawing practice. Years later when I was establishing myself in LA and restarting my painting practice, I dove into an archive of photos I'd taken and did this cathartic purge of printing photos from my phone and computer from which to work. I made a book that became a massive vision board or bible of source material and subjects that I wanted to paint, as well as noting color relationships, patterns and moods.
I still scroll and sort pictures I’m taking day to day and print them, as well as refer to the original “bible”, I keep a big box full of photos from which to cut and arrange when I’m starting a new body of work. I like the quickness and low stakes nature of collage, it allows for unconscious, deeper or weirder associations to form that I wouldn’t get to if I was planning or thinking in a more straightforward way.
EL: Something I love about your paintings is the way certain images or motifs might be repeated or cropped in different ways across different paintings, as though looked at through a lens that is zooming in and out. I’m thinking about the oranges in this exhibition, for instance, and the way that one appears as a smaller detail in one piece and then unfurls in the foreground of another piece, only to be expanded even more in a painting where the orange is the only subject depicted. How do you think about the repetition and variation of these forms, from one painting to the other?
CC: I was excited as I got into working on this exhibition to focus more directly on a single subject, both the color orange and the orange itself. I was painting a few oranges from observation in my studio over the weeks of making the work for this show, and returning to it again repeatedly allowed me to get more intense in each rendering, I think in doubling down and repeating it as a subject furthers my intention of that subject standing in symbolically for other things.