hidell brooks is delighted to see a painting by north carolina artist jacob cooley gracing the cover of artvoices fall 2014. inside the magazine there is a very insightful article on his landscape paintings. artvoices is a wonderful collective of artists and art journalists who have come together to create a work of art. the magazine strives to serve as a manifestation of the voice of art, and all that it encompasses.
capturing the ephemeral moments of rising and falling sunlight and shadows—transient scenes evoking not only the harmonies of nature but also the deeper, transcendent moods of the human spirit—has always been the ultimate point of landscape painting. with his lucidly contemplative landscapes of the coastal marshes of the carolinas, jacob cooley stands as a contemporary master of the form.
jacob cooley’s depiction of twilight beaches and wetlands with cloudless skies reflected in still waterways separated by the sharp lines of distant shores and forests are all illuminated with seemingly infinite gradients of brush strokes and color. this has become a signature style instantly recognizably as his own. while a representational artist, the influence of modern abstract painting has been a major influence that runs throughout his work. a graduate of the mfa program at the university of north carolina at chapel hill, cooley names austrian abstractionist arnulf rainerand and pinhole photographer sally mann as early influences on his work.
“over the years, my landscapes have gone from completely abstract to something approaching a literal interpretation to minimalist in recent years,” says cooley, who works in his studio with the aid of thousands of outdoor photographs he’s taken over the years. “In many paintings now, I’m no longer referencing an objective landscape but more of a place or an essence that I’m recalling. my current work is more influenced by rothko, early diebenkorn, and the filmmaker terrence malick.”
cooley’s path as a landscape painter is informed by his lifelong attraction to the natural world and his long time commitment to environmental issues. he grew up in durham, n.c., where he now lives again and remembers a rural landscape that, in recent years, has disappeared at an alarming rate. “as a child I can remember riding in the car with my mom and looking out the window at this blur of kudzu and blue sky,” he says. “when I returned to the area where I’d grown up, I began noticing that landscape again, and the imagery worked its way into my paintings. i began to think about the spiritual aspects of a landscape–its memory cataloging the energy of ages.”
his first paintings in the genre were dark, monolithic abstractions of a rural landscapes at night. these paintings were compared to the haunted works of albert pinkham ryder, noted for his vague hints of spiritual forces at work. cooley’s darker abstractions gave way to the light of the carolina coast where he’s spent much time over the years with his family. considering the coastal wetlands anew as a painter, he was struck by their solitude, fertility, and austerity.
“to me, they offer a withdrawal from the rest of the world,” cooley says, recalling a recent family outing to remote masonboro Island on the north carolina coast, a shoreline only accessible by boat. “when I’m at these places, i revel in something basic, authentic, and profoundly essential—the infallible truths and deep-rooted perpetuity of landscape. aesthetically, it’s imposing and challenging, but the surrounding politics of these places makes it especially compelling to me.”
he explains that the landscapes that he explores with his art are also highly functioning and evolved ecosystems, which protect shorelines, recharge groundwater, and provide an abundance of habitat; these are also environments continually challenged by people. “they’re polluted, and they’re cleared for dredging or for development,” says cooley, a longtime member of the triangle land conservancy, an environmental non-profit in north carolina. “they’re being destroyed by increasingly powerful storms, rising water, and higher temperatures. they’re disappearing landscapes that need to be appreciated and protected for the ecological role they play.”
cooley has also spent time in california and the west coast and is working on a new series based on those landscapes. as his work evolves, his paintings have become more minimal and less about literal landscapes and actual images than the essence of a place and its light and color.
“they’re more about being green than being grass…about being insinuations of space,” he explains. “my paintings have become a meditation for me, and it speaks to me about what is quiescent and sublime in landscape. they’re optimistic and calm and act as a refuge for me from a turbulent life; and [they] also celebrate the profound abundance and joy of being alive”
jacob cooley recalls recently reading a review of another landscape painter by british writer germaine greer, in which she declares that a painter must act with authority to throw a frame around a feature and detach it. “that summarizes the way i’ve been approaching my work lately—almost like a cinematographer. i am documenting places that i know that are passing through my world in all their astounding ways. in some ways, they’re like film stills. they might seem insignificant–the images between the money shots, but they’re leading you somewhere. they’re capturing and amplifying the wonder.”
cooley’s next major showing of new paintings will be at the hidell brooks gallery in charlotte, n.c. in 2015. his work is in the permanent collections of the nasher museum of art at duke university, the mayo clinic, bell south, us airways, marriot hotels, and the ford motor company world headquarters in dearborn, mi. his recent showings include the allen sheppard gallery in ny, gleason fine art in portland, me, lyman-eyer gallery in provincetown, ma, eno gallery in hillsborough, nc, and at the u.s. embassy in podgorica, montenegro as part of the art in embassies program sponsored by the u.s. state department.
hidell brooks is looking forward to showing new paintings by jacob cooley in 2015. please call the gallery if you have any questions concerning jacob's work.