Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Matthew Cook (update)

Matthew Cook
In many ways, all art is about selection.

Whether representational or non-representational, imaginary or abstracted from reality — visual art is about choices of what to show and what not to show.

So, for that matter, is writing, music and all other forms of communication and expression.

Ever since bottom-line mandates turned “news” into “infotainment”, and Justin Bieber’s latest pimple became more “newsworthy” than ongoing conflicts that affect millions, it’s been easy to forget how selective reporting can be, particularly within a cacophony of information sources.

Significant numbers of American and British soldiers remain stationed in Afghanistan and Iraq. Life goes on in these places — conflict continues, people die, other people live. Those who live, both native and from outside, get on with their daily lives — buying groceries, fixing cars, checking the electronics on a remote controlled flying bomb.

News organizations and individuals continue to report on what’s happening in these areas, but their information is often “selected” for the bottom of “what’s important”, because it’s not dramatic or new or exciting enough to attract a large viewership and thereby help sell Coke or Nexium or Dodge Durangos.

It’s all about selection.

Which brings me to the “reportage” art of Matthew Cook, who I profiled in 2013 here on Lines and Colors.

Cook has the unusual position of reporting on events in these areas of conflict, as well as at home in the U.K., by way of drawings and paintings in ink and watercolor. A rarity in the age of ubiquitous photography, reportage art, particularly when it is as accomplished as Cook’s, reminds us of the power of the visual artist to select and present only the essentials.

Yes, photographers select and compose, but their ability to do so is in some ways limited. A visual artist has absolute power of selection, everything but the essentials can be left out.

Cook does that — stripping his images of daily life among the British military, and the local residents, down to their most powerful and visually appealing essentials — with such aplomb that it’s astonishing to me that this kind of visual reporting isn’t more prevalent and appreciated.

That, I think, resonates with what I find most appealing in visual art — the power to make the ordinary extraordinary, to make what we pass by and ignore suddenly assume importance — the power to make us notice.

It’s all about selection.

6 thoughts on “Matthew Cook (update)

  1. Shahnawaz Baloch

    I got the impression from your words is that that Mr.Cook draw things/scenes which were easy for him to draw and ponder. For me this seems true, after reading your note.
    Nice words Charley Parker and beautiful art Matthew Cook.

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