The Notion of Landscape: Michael Cook

Albuquerque-based artist Michael Cook (#42, #114) has long been exploring the vast terrain of both landscape and our perceptions of it. Citing an interest in semiotics and specifically, the point at which “objects become visible in culture” he often conflates symbols, language and diagrams to build complex, multi-layered compositions. In his current exhibition The Notion of Landscape at the Francis McCray Gallery of Contemporary Art at Western New Mexico University in Silver City, NM, Cook presents a diverse body of work that spans the years 1981-2009. –Claude Smith Albuquerque/Santa Fe Contributor


Michael Cook | Venetian (Alamogordo) 2007-2009, oil on canvas, 36 x 48 inches; image courtesy the artist


Michael Cook | Busy, Busy, Busy 1990, oil on canvas, 72 x 96 inches; image courtesy the artist


Michael Cook | Died of a Theory, 2004, oil on canvas, 72 x 96 inches; image courtesy the artist

The 11 paintings that comprise this survey of Michael Cook’s work seek to give perspective into his diverse process as it relates to his evolution as a painter. In this offering that spans almost 30 years, we see Cook easily modulating through various stylistic periods, and refining his conceptual and technical approaches. Building on an expanded notion of “landscape” beyond its constraints as a indicator of purely geographical connotations, Cook seeks to simultaneously also visualize the overlaying constellation of social, psychological and cultural “residue” that exists therein as abstract embodiment of the human experience. In many instances, Cook relies on symbols, shapes and formalist techniques to obstruct or complicate the viewing process and furthermore, embraces the contradictions that arise as a result.


Michael Cook | Instructions (Orton) 1991-1996, oil on canvas, 72 x 96 inches; image courtesy the artist


Michael Cook | Instructions (Niagara) 1991-1996, oil on canvas, 72 x 96 inches; image courtesy the artist

Throughout the exhibition, the viewer is confronted by the his depictions of landscape as an inscribable surface–a surface from which we can not only derive meaning, but also upon which we deposit our own indelible marks. It’s in these illuminating moments that Cook will challenge–but also reward–those viewers that go beyond just looking, and really strive to see.

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Michael Cook has had more than 20 individual exhibitions and his work has been included in numerous group shows in Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Cambridge and New York. His artwork has been extensively reviewed and included in many publications, private collections and the permanent collections of The New Museum of Contemporary Art (New York), San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art and The Albuquerque Museum of Art and History, among others. Cook is a respected educator and lecturer and has held faculty positions at University of Illinois, University of California, Berkeley and San Francisco Art institute. Currently, Cook is a Professor of Art at the University of New Mexico.

Claude Smith is an arts administrator and educator.