Barrie Cooke has been painting water, both clean and polluted since 1954. Lough Sheelin in 1985 was the first lake in Ireland to go (Death of a Lake, 1988). It has not recovered. He painted the ‘River Nore, Filamentous algae’ in 1990 and ‘Sewage Outlet, River Nore’ 1992. Clear, clean Lough Arrow in Co. Sligo became polluted due to excess phosphates in 1994 and he began to paint that. Throughout this period Ireland advertised itself as ‘The Clean Green Country of Europe.’ It still does!
All this time Cooke was visiting New Zealand. From 1987 when he first went, it seemed, although similar in many ways to Ireland, as if it might escape the pollution of it’s rivers and waterways. Then, quite slowly, even New Zealand became the victim of the same process. Four years ago a severe algae growth hit the rivers, Didymosphenia geminata, which was given the name of ‘Didymo’ ( Big Didymo, 2005); it spread and grew much worse until by 2006 it had affected at least 20 rivers bank to bank. Like most pollution it is both beautiful and revolting. These paintings are about the later stages of Didymosphenia geminata and for the first time in his long and illustrious career Cooke has devoted an entire exhibition to pollution.
Cooke’s ambivalent natural fascinations have had a direct and ongoing impact on his paintings.
‘At such points, perhaps, we may be reminded that the ongoing investigation of this ‘assaulting’, invading matter in the landscape provokes for Cooke not only an energized and ethical response to ecological trauma, but also a realization of new, complex and quite considerable challenges that may be faced in the work of the solitary painter. There is dedication to the world here, but also, undoubtedly, to the exigencies of the art itself — for all the multiple issues and meanings we may associate with these ‘Didymo’ paintings, they may be read also as risky abstract works, as invested in the contemplation of surface as the materially rich monochromes of Robert Ryman.’
-Declan Long, exhibition catalogue, 2007
Barrie Cooke has exhibited widely throughout Europe, the US and Canada. Major retrospectives include shows in the Douglas Hyde Gallery, Dublin in 1986, the Haags Gemeentemuseum, The Hague in 1992, and LAC, Perpignan, France in 1995, and the Royal Hibernian Academy Gallery, Dublin in 2003 His work is represented in the collections of the Irish Museum of Modern Art, the Ulster Museum, the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, the Haags Gemeentemuseum and in many other public and private collections worldwide.
A fully illustrated catalogue with text by Declan Long will be published to accompany the exhibition.