Guest Lecture by Artist Christopher Cook
History of Art BA Module 'The Materials of Art and Architecture', 3 December 2019
On 3 December 2019, artist Christopher Cook (Reader in Painting at Plymouth University) gave the final guest lecture for the students in Materials of Art & Architecture. Cook worked closely with Dr Jeanne Nuechterlein and Dr Beatrice Bertram (York Art Gallery) on the exhibition Making a Masterpiece: Bouts and Beyond (October 11, 2019 – January 26, 2020). The third section of the exhibition juxtaposes artworks from the so-called ‘Golden Age’ of Dutch and Flemish still life painting with new works by Cook that reinterpret this classic genre for the contemporary world. The exhibition opened with five of his works made in 2018 and 2019, replaced in January 2020 by five new works he made in response to paintings in York Art Gallery’s collection.
Cook uses graphite and resin, an idiosyncratic process he first developed twenty years ago. In his fascinating lecture, he explained the evolution in his painting practice over many years and discussed various sources of inspiration for his innovative technique, including Indian architecture, sand painting, and Japanese zen gardens. The lecture concluded with a sneak preview of the new works to be added to the exhibition, and two videos showing part of the process of creating one of them: Memento mori, which relates closely to York Art Gallery's Still Life of Fruit and Flowers With Bird’s Nest on a Marble Ledge (1744) by Jan van Os, but with a burning building added to the background, and the butterfly replaced by a Death’s Head Hawk Moth.
By the end of the second video, Cook has created a composition in which the pineapple was replaced with a grenade, an idea he decided to abandon in the final version (see below). These remarkable videos reveal how Cook’s distinctive materials enable him to work experimentally, trying out different visual ideas, repeatedly wiping them away and starting again before settling on the final image.
Main image: Artist Chris Cook, standing between 'Still Life of Fruit and Flowers With Bird’s Nest on a Marble Ledge' (1744) by Jan van Os and his own artwork inspired by it and commissioned for the exhibition 'Making a Masterpiece: Bouts and Beyond, 1450-2020' at York Art Gallery. Photo: ©Charlotte Graham, courtesy of York Art Gallery