Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

New Spirit in Painting; Story Time: Stumpy's Diner Incorporates Figurative History Painting into the Trend for Works That Are Critical of Art Itself

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

New Spirit in Painting; Story Time: Stumpy's Diner Incorporates Figurative History Painting into the Trend for Works That Are Critical of Art Itself

Article excerpt

Byline: BEN LEWIS

Nigel Cooke New Accursed Art Club Stuart Shave/Modern Art, W1

IN THIS new series of paintings, Nigel Cooke has firmly established himself asthe leading British painter of his (post-Doig) generation.

He does it through a typically contemporary art sleight of handmaking epic paintings about the end of epic painting.

The name of this 35-year-old, who studied at Goldsmiths and now lives nearCanterbury, is unknown to most of the British public but he had a show at TateBritain back in 2004 and art collectors already queue for years to buy one ofhis paintings.

He is a great choice for the opening show at the new West End space of StuartShave/Modern Art, probably the most successful of the (in this case, former)East End galleries to have emerged in the boom of the past five years. Likemany of Shave's competitors, his taste, often figurative, usually reflecting asense of craft and a "return to beauty", sometimes suffers from a weakness forthe decorative but not here.

Cooke's 15-canvas show is small yet it feels much larger. His paintings areintense in their detail and exemplary in their varietythere is more incident and originality in one Cooke painting than there is inthe entire oeuvre of many of the previous generation of pop-conceptual Britishartists, the YBAs.

In large and small canvases and drawings, tramps swigging bottles of liquorstagger across scrubland with dilapidated, graffitied modernist buildings inthe background. A strange fog or dusk-like gloom has settled on these strangelypicturesque corners of rundown council estates, which recall 18th-century viewsof classical ruins. We often see it all through arabesques of sperm-like fauna,which seem like fragments from a floral print from Liberty.

What does it all mean? The best clue is in the window of Stumpy's Dinera small tourist souvenir painting of an Alpine landscape hangs there.

The peaks of the mountains in the picture are echoed by the pointed concreteroof of the modernist cafeit's a tragi-comic gag about how low we have sunk since the age of Romanticpainting, when they thought an artist could depict God in the landscape. …

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