September 26, 2011
THE Magazine, October 2011
Diane Armitage

THE Magazine, October 2011
Diane Armitage

I have to admit that part of my original take on Michael Cook’s recent exhibition Venetian was wrong in this sense: I thought the title of Cook’s show referred to Venice, Italy, and that city’s Venetian waters with their refractory, illusive surfaces. The water is never just water there, but a plateau of mirrors. I initially saw Cook’s new body of work as yet another prism with which to view the slippery nature of images, the endlessly changing, liquid relationship between the viewer and the viewed. And I may not be so far off, even if the artist’s paintings do not refer to the properties of Venetian waters per se so much as the blinkered views from behind Venetian blinds. Underneath the surface of Cook’s paintings is the push and pull of looking out and looking in. In his work, the blinds constitute a scrim, an ocular veil that admits or blocks information about the world outside—the realm of facts, dead ends, dreadful realities, dazzling vistas, and manifold delights.

On the surface of these images are Cook’s meticulous renderings of a visual strategy—Venetian blinds turned on their axis from horizontal to vertical slats; the vertical lines become a grid and the vehicle for color and manipulations of surface-todepth relationships. Embedded underneath the linear forms are a series of changing landscapes that sometimes refer to actual ones beyond an implied window or to clouds, abstract forms, even a bombing range, or to erotic configurations of male and female symbols—products of the playful mind of the artist. There may or may not be a single key to unlocking this body of work as the paintings slip in and out of their own surface readings like a dolphin skillfully maneuvering through the waves. One could view the surface, with its linear notations, as the artist’s conscious mind, and below the cohesiveness of the linear are fleeting hints of Cook’s subconscious with its pool of desires, its fears, its innocence, its dark side, its need to hide and to seek.

There is a strong sense of visual discipline inherent in this work—an elegantly imposed order over the free-ranging mind with all its repertoire of refractions and reflections. However, Cook’s highly structured vertical grid doesn’t at all seem like an imposition on the cravings of his Id, a word that often appears in the titles of the paintings: as in Venetian Id (Yellow Greens) with its bands of color that seem to morph from one color to the next; inflections of red, orange, and violet sections add an almost undulating quality to the strictness of the lines. But what is going on underneath the grid? There are schematic drawings and diagrams—a happy face in the upper right-hand corner, a frowning one at the lower left, and is that a crisscrossing of phalluses in the middle? It’s as if, under the surface, a physicist of the erotic was at the drawing board illustrating a mind at play in the fields of free association.

Cook’s paintings are powerful in the intensity of their color relationships, yet the work runs the danger of being over-wrought for the sake of creating a visual style. However, just when you think he’s gone too far with his idea, you quickly succumb to the undertow of the paintings’ sensual depths with their rebus-like information. What seems hard, intensely linear, and over-determined is just a mask for the indeterminate nature of clouds or smoke, or dream-like sinuous shapes whose identities are vague. In such works as Venetian (Orange Mesoscale), the artist offers the idea of a mask that both frames an idea and is a threshold into the artist’s vision of the fragility of the land, or the odd schematics of what looks like a launch pad as in Venetian (Violet Continent). But one thing is certain—although Cook’s vistas of interior and exterior worlds are visually limited by the implied frame of a window, the paintings don’t really have a beginning or an end; though cropped, these views of real and imaginary terrain could go on to infinity.

All contemporary painting is ultimately self-reflexive. The act of painting is an investigation into the process of what it means to be an artist with an evolving lineage, and it is also an investigation into the nature of the self in relation to the world. The artistic process attempts to anchor the individual in the ebb and flow of life and provide a strategy for survival, for arriving at the slippery depths of a momentary certainty—but one that just as quickly shifts toward uncertainty as information flows over everyone’s highly personal and unlevel playing field. Cook’s painting has always possessed brains and beauty, but it doesn’t rest in the realm of facile devices. His work represents hardwon pictorial truths on which the artist continues to build his unique plateau of mirrors.

—Diane Armitage

THE Magazine, October 2011
Diane Armitage

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January 17, 2017
Globalocation: Celebrating 20 Years of Artnauts
J. Willard Marriott Library
The University of Utah, 01/17/2017

The University of Utah’s J. Willard Marriott Library will host the art exhibition Globalocation: Celebrating 20 Years of Artnauts, Jan. 20-March 3.

Artnauts, an art collective formed 20 years ago by George Rivera, professor of art and art history at the University of Colorado, Boulder, consists of 300 global artists who serve as goodwill ambassadors, acknowledging and supporting victims of oppression worldwide. Their creativity has generated over 230 exhibitions across five continents. Five faculty members from the U’s Department of Art and Art History are members of the collective, Sandy Brunvand, Beth Krensky, V. Kim Martinez, Brian Snapp and Xi Zhang.

Globalocation derives from “Globalocational Art” — a concept used by the Artnauts to refer to their exhibitions in international venues. It is the mission of the Artnauts to take art to places of contention, and this anniversary exhibition is a sample of places where they have been and themes they have addressed.

“The Artnauts could not exist without the commitment of the artists in the collective to a common vision of the transformative power of art,” said Rivera. “The Artnauts make their contribution with art that hopefully generates a dialogue with an international community on subjects that are sometimes difficult to raise.”

Krensky, associate department chair of the Art and Art History Department, had the opportunity to travel with Rivera in Chile as part of an Artnauts project, working with mothers who were searching for their children who had mysteriously disappeared during a time of political unrest.

“When I travelled to Chile in 1998, George and I spent an afternoon with the Mothers of the Disappeared, and the meeting changed my life,” said Krensky. “It was from that moment on that I placed a picture of them on my desk to look at every day. I was so moved by what they each had lost — a son, a brother, a father — and yet what remained for them was a deep, deep well of love. They were fierce warriors and stood up to the government to demand the whereabouts and information of the people who had disappeared, but they lived within profound love.”

The 20th anniversary exhibition at the Marriott Library is a retrospective of the traveling works the Artnauts have toured around the globe. The exhibition will be located on level three of the library. The opening reception is open to the public and will be held on Friday, Jan 20, 4-6 p.m. Rivera will speak at 4 p.m.

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