Untitled (Water Tower and Speed Boat), 1980, Gordon Cook
Oil on canvas, 11″ x 14″
Photo: courtesy George Krevsky Gallery
In 1918, the metaphysical painter Carlo Carrà wrote, “We have little time for those who tell tales of a new world every twenty-four hours … It seems sufficient to us that the artist should have a clear idea of what he is doing hour by hour.” His clear idea was to depict the “secret magnificence” of humble objects. It is probable that the like-minded San Francisco painter/printmaker Gordon Cook has been compared to ancestors like Carrà and Giorgio Morandi, but their shared approach, balancing observation with a calm, measured poetry, is due for revival. Concurrent retrospectives at George Krevsky Gallery and the Bolinas Museum in Marin County made it clear that Cook, who died in 1985, knew exactly what he was doing.
Born in 1927, Cook moved west in 1951, during the golden age of bohemianism encompassing Bay Area Figuration, Beat, and Funk Art. Cook, however, “abhorred any romanticizing about being an artist,” according to Don Ed Hardy. “To him, picture making was a job of work, and he treasured the demands of the craft…[T]ranscendence … was mysterious and unpredictable, not something that could ever be calculated or aimed for.” Charles Hine remembers Cook’s decidedly undramatic advice: ”Do one thing, over and over.”
That sober Midwestern approach informs all the work, however ultimately strange or funny. Untitled (Water Tower and Speed Boat) and Boathouse depict marine themes with the emotional force and ambiguous scale of a dream�the water preternaturally becalmed, the skies Existential Gray and cloudless; in the latter, a flagpole perches atop the boathouse like a sentry, awaiting the slightest breeze. Letter in a Letter Holder, Bookends, and Lead Milk Bottle on Stand present everyday household objects with the gravity and presence of icons or monumental architecture. Black Head with White Dickey and Two Stick Figures depict Cook’s wooden figure sculptures; with their paint-clad cubic bodies, “unpainted” wood-grained blockheads, and stripped-branch limbs, they’re comic puppets in Cook’s stately theater of the absurd.