Will Cooke | Every Wall Is A Door
15 January 2021 - 13 February 2021
Starkwhite is pleased to present Every Door is a Wall, a solo exhibition of new work by Australian artist Will Cooke.
Although two-dimensional, Will Cooke’s paintings conjure an immersive environment that revels in theatrical lighting effects and unexpected materials. Across this new body of work created for his first exhibition in New Zealand, Cooke’s use of circles and polygons sculpts architectural structures that are both futuristic and oddly nostalgic. Painted in acrylic on aluminium panel, his sharp geometry toys with balance, proportion, scale and space. Modernism’s fascination with materials is echoed in Cooke’s paintings, as is the forming and representation of space which stood at its core. Drawing on geometry as a way to convey and shape space, Cooke’s compositions are aided by dramatic and mysterious sources of illumination emanating from behind the picture plane.
The title of the exhibition, Every Wall is a Door, is a quote by poet and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson. Cooke was drawn to the phrase for its associations to the work of French designer and architect Jean Prouvé whose forms blur the utilitarian and aesthetic. Prouvé’s celebrated metal porthole door punctured to let light through is a reference point, Cooke has left a circular portion unpainted in each work so that the aluminium structure is transparent.
Seen through the prism of the mid-20th century, the modern world was utopian, sleek, and functional. The perceived tension between the modern – characterised as rational, and progressive – and its countercultural other, nature, is united by the dual forces of geometry and light. Present in nature, from the hexagonal prism of a snowflake to the visible semi-circle of a rainbow, natural geometries underpin our world. Although championing industrial materials such as steel, glass, concrete, modernism doesn’t in fact deny the natural world but grows from it. Aluminium, the base of Cooke’s paintings, is both space age and natural (the most common metal in the Earth’s crust)
Cooke toys with modernism’s fascination with new media, materials, and technologies but also the movement’s tendency to prioritise light, perhaps the most natural of elements. While modernism was far from the only artistic movement to prioritise light, the metaphorical associations afforded it as both subject and inspiration were immense. Light offered an essence of optimism and infinity. Architects like Le Corbusier used it to inspire a sense of the divine and the poetic in buildings, drawing on its intensity and daily changes to bring the outdoors inside. In modernist design, as in these architecturally inflected paintings, the static and sculptural verges on kinetic. In Cooke’s work light, dark, and shadow dance across metal surfaces, shifting the eye from one geometric form to the next along angular lines. This interplay between form and light defines Cooke’s practice, evoking the machine age and the promise its forms and forces signalled.