Eye Candy: Monica Cook
I first came across images of Monica Cook’s paintings about four years ago, her work was published in the July 2005 issue of New American Paintings (issue # 58) and - I am not saying this lightly - it melted my face. I immediately went to her website www.monicacookart.com to see more examples of her gorgeous art and I was not disappointed by what I found. Combining skillfully rendered self-portraiture with pattern and abstracted, atmospheric spaces, Ms. Cooks paintings went a measure or two beyond traditional figurative art and touched upon something emotional and psychological. I am a sucker for this type of combination, as it happens – I love seeing representational and illusionistic images in paintings that straddle the line of realism while exploring the actual physical properties of the paint itself. She accomplished that in her work and she did so in such a hauntingly beautiful way.
Well, that was then. I still love those paintings, but I visited her website recently and Holy Smoking Cats, you should see what she is doing now.
Monica Cook’s newer paintings are somewhat stripped down, compositionally speaking – single and multiple bodies (or portions of bodies) still hold court in her pictures, but they are juxtaposed against a tonally stark background. Removed from the decorative and spatially enigmatic backgrounds of her past work, the focus now rests squarely on the shoulders of the figures themselves and Ms. Cook’s work is conceptually richer for it. As with all things subjective, viewers may take away different interpretations from her work - commentary about identity, over-indulgence and carousal registered with me when I first saw these paintings – but then again, that is where my own head has been of late. Her nudes are painted in such a way that I feel that I could actually reach out and squeeze the flesh of them – and in doing so, would feel the pulse beating beneath the skin as well as the perspiration that covers it. Her more recent work goes to a grotesque place, luring the viewer in with the promise of breasts and limbs and glistening skin, only to find that these figures are piled on top of each other like meat, sometimes covered in crushed fruit or octopi, their hair and flesh slick with sweat and sticky juice.
I admire Monica Cook so much for going beyond her formidable skills as a painter (and seriously, these are so gorgeously and masterfully painted) and creating something that resonates on a darker, more complex emotional level than if she had merely made something beautiful. If you are unfamiliar with her artwork, I highly recommend visiting her webisite and giving her splendid paintings a look.
Monica Cooks work is available at the Marcia Wood Gallery in Atlanta, GA.