Nino Mier Gallery is pleased to present Landscapes, our second solo exhibition with Texas-born and New York-based artist Ethan Cook. The exhibition expands on the artist’s ongoing conceptual and visual interests in medium, material, and minimalism. Twelve new paintings and one sculptural installation will be on view in Marfa, Texas from October 7 to December 4, 2021.
Landscapes is titled not after the content, quality, or orientation of the works on view in the show, but rather after Cook’s responsiveness to the atmosphere of the west Texan desert. The artist lived in Texas for most of his life, including a year-long stint in Terlingua, a town close to Marfa, in 2008. This exhibition offered him an opportunity to reacquaint himself with the elemental forces that shape this unique landscape. The new suite of paintings departs from Cook’s earlier work, which sutured two-dimensional planes of color next to one another, using the canvas’ natural boundaries. Instead, they now evoke a figure-ground dynamic, wherein imperfect, curved shapes of color cut from canvas emerge before a muted, sand-colored backdrop that—when viewed consecutively—feel as vast as the desert floor. The curved, irregular rectangular shapes seem to multiply and drift upwards on the canvas, as though they were heat waves radiating off an overheated earth. Cook’s color palette has also shifted in this body of work, away from dark blues and blacks and vibrant secondary colors, and towards more softened, neutral hues like lavender and butter yellow, and the jewel tones of night like deep purple and blood red.
Cook’s paintings are composed of colored fabric panels that have been hand woven on a four-harness loom, stitched together, and stretched on bars. Foregoing the notion that in order to paint one must apply pigment to canvas in some way – be it by brush, by knife, or by hand – Cook instead uses a loom to weave large swaths of colored fabric that make up his surfaces. He devises his compositions by laying colors on a flat stretcher, walking around the stretcher to regard them from all angles, then shifting and re-shifting until their balance is satisfactory. “I am conscious of the world through the medium of my body,” writes Maurice Merleau-Ponty, whose work influences Cook’s thought and method. The body is an interface between the virtual and the actual. For Cook, it is the birthplace of his aesthetic constructions. His works therefore do not so much represent desert landscapes, but rather point to what it might feel like to inhabit them in a mode attuned to the all-sensing body.
Sky, dirt, rocks: these are the primary materials that make up the expansive land surrounding Marfa. But that land also teems with life and history that become apparent the longer one regards it. “I’m interested in ‘how the world becomes the world,’ and in capturing a moment of creation materially,” Cook said. This interest is especially apparent in his sculptural installation, This Must be the Place, made of 48 blocks of rammed earth that totals 4 tons in weight. The blocks are arranged in a series of vertical pillars, first increasing in height, then decreasing in height, altogether forming a pyramid shape with gaps between stacks. Rammed earth is a sustainable, ancient building technique of great compressive strength and impermeability that employs raw materials. Because the soil used in rammed earth is compacted in courses, the surface of each block contains striations. Much like the rings visible when a tree trunk is bisected, the intricate ridges in these blocks are material traces of time, process, and becoming.
A desire to work through how one could produce a painting without paint motivates the artist. What usually is understood as merely the medial support of a painting – a canvas – instead becomes the primary material for Cook’s aesthetic gestures. This impulse might be understood as developing a postmodernist approach to ironizing artistic aura. For instance, Robert Venturi’s 1977 Ironic Column is a towering wooden sculpture that takes the form of an object – an ionic column – that would conventionally not be regarded as art in its own right, but rather as a supporting structure for something else, be it architecture or sculpture. As with Venturi’s sculpture, Cook’s paintings give center stage to what normally functions as a support to another entity. As his medium is painting, Cook’s material is canvas.
But situating Cook’s canvases in the legacy of postmodernism fails to capture so much of what make his paintings affecting. Working in opposition to Clement Greenberg’s limited definition of the medium of a work of art as only its technical apparatus, Rosalind Krauss understands a medium as “a supporting structure, generative of a set of conventions.” Cook’s work articulates itself in terms of the Kraussian medium—in what painting as a medium does for and to a viewer. Regarding his color fields is still a somatic experience as much as it is a visual one. The artist, who is ever influenced by music, thought about silence and moving silence while constructing this body of work. The silence of the desert is often so loud it can move you.
Ethan Cook (b. 1983, Texas) has had solo shows at Nino Mier Gallery, Los Angeles; Half Gallery, New York; Andersen’s Contemporary, Copenhagen; Galerie Philipp Zollinger, Zurich; T293, Rome; Loyal Gallery, Stockholm; Anat Ebgi, Los Angeles; Noire Chapel, Torino; Bill Brady, Miami; Sunday-S Gallery, Copenhagen; American Contemporary, New York; Galerie Jeanroch Dard, Paris; Rod Barton, London; Patrick de Brock Gallery, Knokke; and Gana Art Hannam, Seoul. His work has been covered in the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, the Brooklyn Rail, Interview Magazine, Architectural Digest, among other publications. Cook lives and works in New York, New York.