Jenkins Johnson Gallery, New York, is pleased to present Plunge, a solo exhibition of recent drawings by Melissa Cooke. This will be her first solo show with Jenkins Johnson Gallery in New York. There will be an opening reception with the artist on November 1 from 6 to 8 pm.
Plunge features new large-scale works on paper by Melissa Cooke; her powdered graphite drawings explore themes of beauty, fantasy, violence, and identity, with the artist casting herself as the subject in a myriad of thematic scenarios. Her work confronts the viewer both with scale and stirring reflections of emotion, sexuality, and drama. Cooke’s dedication to self-portraiture stems from her creativity and her love of characters and costumes but also gives her an outlet to explore her identity and process events within her life. Each new series tackles a different set of questions and topics while also holding fast to the questions of persona evident throughout Cooke’s entire oeuvre.
In her new body of work, Undertow, the artist has created close cropped portraits that investigate the relationship between photography, performance, and drawing. Cooke photographed herself sinking and diving in water, and it is these images that became the basis for her haunting and ethereal drawings. Departing from traditional portraiture, Cooke has zoomed in on close sections of her face, thereby pushing the human figure into ambiguity and abstraction. Flesh and hair intertwine with ripples and bubbles, and water dissolves into brushstrokes and soft eraser marks. The water becomes a landscape. Cooke states of this new series, “I recently moved to New York City from Wisconsin. Unaccustomed to city living, I am frequently overwhelmed by the hectic environment. The bathtub has become a respite from this chaos, and a substitution for the calming comfort of Midwest lakes. Commotion is muffled underwater. Submerged, I am in the quiet, weightless in a space of reflection.” Her works, typically inspired by emotionally charged memories and relationships, serve first as a cathartic experience, and then as an aesthetic exaggeration of emotion. Having been compared to Cindy Sherman for her role playing and psychological undertones, Cooke’s work skews reality and allows fiction to become truth.
Cooke’s work starts with a series reference photographs that become the inspiration for her large scale intricate portraits. Images are created by dusting thin layers of graphite onto paper with a dry brush. The soft quality of the graphite provides a smooth surface on which details can be augmented by erasure. No pencils are used in the work, allowing the surface to glow without the shine of heavy pencil marks. The scale of the drawings demands an intimate and physical interaction with the work, forcing the viewer to confront the challenges Cooke presents.
Melissa Cooke received her MFA from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She has exhibited widely throughout the United States, including solo exhibitions at the Museum of Wisconsin Art, West Bend and at Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, Madison, WI, among others. She was a 2010 and 2011 Artist-in-Residence at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Art, Omaha. Cooke is in the permanent collection of the Arkansas Museum of Art, Little Rock; The Howard Tullman Collection, Chicago, IL; and the Boston Public Library Print Collection, MA, among others. She was reviewed in ARTnews as a part of Jenkins Johnson Gallery’s On Paper exhibition.