(British, b.1973) is an acclaimed figurative artist known for his large-scale fantastical scenes of decaying urban landscapes. Born in Manchester, England, Cooke’s first creative impulse came when he inherited his grandfather’s easel and paints. At first, he had no interest in art or painting, but decided to try it in memory of his grandfather, who had been an amateur painter. Cooke realized he wasn’t any good and was surprised at how challenging it was to recreate imagery through painting. This challenge became an addiction, a longing to discover. In 1991, he began his lengthy education at Nottingham Trent University where he received a BA in Fine Arts, and in 1995, went straight to graduate school at the Royal College of Art, achieving his MA in painting two years later. During this time, he began to make a name for himself as an artist with his series of surreal scenes showing a mixture of influences from Sublime images and 18th-century landscape painting, to Contemporary ideas on entropy. Cooke then attended Goldsmith’s College in London, graduating in 2004 with a PhD in Fine Art.
In his work, Cooke aspired to represent all characteristics of painting, “from the retarded to the sophisticated,” as he said once in an interview. He described his work as a parody of the “doomed last painting.” Cooke’s paintings evoke images from the Flemish Renaissance, Contemporary Graffiti Art, and styles similar to that of graphic novels. A recurring theme in his work is the tortured artist, meant to evoke how physically demanding art had always been for him. This theme is seen in the suffering, isolated figures, which were originally based on the work of Vincent Van Gogh
. Cooke labeled these figures “Van Gogh tramps,” which travel aimlessly in a decaying world. To Work is to Play
(2008) was first exhibited at a solo show he did at Modern Art, London, entitled New Accursed Art Club
, which references the role and persona of an artist.
Cooke published his first book, Words
, in 2012, which explores the influence of pop culture and mass media, the idea of painting reality, and the authenticity of painting in an era in which authenticity is often overlooked.