The Point of No Return
On a Galápagos beach in 1835, Charles Darwin and the crew of the Beagle prepared to pack almost forty Giant Tortoises into their ship for a journey to Polynesia. Giant Tortoises starve slowly, staying fat and delicious long enough to be the perfect long-distance fare. By 1900, the species was almost entirely decimated.
The story of homo sapiens is shaped by the ebb and flow of unchecked audacity. Each of its conquests is shadowed by cataclysm, imploding upon its own abuse of resources, whether a rebelling slave population, warming climate, the diseases of overpopulation or a wiped-out fishery. One can keep tempo through a string of anthropocentric collapses: Rome, Thebes, theHittites, the Maya, the Han Dynasty, the Western Black Rhinoceros, Tasmanian Tiger,Dodo, Woolly Mammoth, desertification, salinization, deforestation, bee Africanization, acidification.
The human animal appears to be hardwired for appropriation:lording itself over territories, species, people and cultures whenever an easy target presents itself. Is there a natural, inevitable cycle between human folly and destruction? Though we might scrutinize old histories, it is as difficult as ever, or rather, we are as unwilling as ever, to learn from them.
It's too late for postcards comes to us as a cautionary taleat the eleventh hour. Seductively and compellingly symbolic, each painting is an urgent, yet deeply encoded disclosure about the precipices we stand on:environmental, social, economic and cultural. Lyrical, fragmentary titles give glimpses of larger narratives, all of it beautiful, all of it aching with potential catastrophe.
Joshua Cocking's fusion of aesthetic allure with darker anxieties is anchored in the artist’s remembrance of a twelve-year period spent living in remote communities in the Kimberley in northern Western Australia.There, the wounds inflicted on Indigenous people by colonization are still raw and distressing. Looking back in time, Cocking observes how an ancient land, its custodians and an invading culture were crushed into an intense and grisly struggle, in which language, knowledge, tradition, families and great leaders were lost forever. The anguish of this reality snuffed his painting practice for nearly a decade. Having finally picked up the brushes, the new work is technically dazzling and serious about how unkempt and dangerous people can be to each other, their planet, even their own future.
The timescale of It's too late for postcards is indefinite.Bright aluminium pinpoints our current era, but other images flash through a cinematic montage from prehistory to uncertain possible futures. Jules Verne'sThe Time Machine echoes: "We are always getting away from the present moment. Our mental existence, which is immaterial and has no dimensions, is passing along the Time-Dimension with a uniform velocity from the cradle to the grave." Anything is possible, but once something happens, is stays ‘happened’, not just in human history or living memory, but forever. It presses on all that is yet to come, and its legacy is received by all who succeed it.
Like the Delphic Oracle divining black omens, JoshuaCocking's paintings are beautiful, in an arresting, emphatic way. His spotless, anonymous skulls; the complex, mirrored surface of crumpled foil; the glint of an unseen fire or sunset; these are dreamlike motifs, seen looming in nameless crimson vacuums or landscapes simultaneously familiar and unfamiliar. The insidiousness of aluminium might stand in for the creeping ills of technology, consumption or Imperialism. The skull is equally universal: it strips us of all difference, reminding us of our corporeal vulnerabilities. Indeed, the human hand seems hardly to have touched the canvas; Cocking's brushstrokes can barely be distinguished, his handling of paint almost incidental, there only to pigment his visions.
In classical Greece, Epicurus theorized that freedom from worry, or ataraxia, is achieved by facing up to the likeliness of suffering and disaster. Where he used meditative thought to achieve this, Joshua Cocking uses paint, composing images that discharge his own experiences and offers the same catharsis and prophetic warning to the viewer. Like an ornamented fortuneteller’s card, each painting invites us to ruminate, wondering whether fate is fixed or changeable; whether there is still time to take a step back from the edge of the ravine.
Words by Dr Sheridan Hart.
Dean Home’s works are a sensual delight to behold. The artist is a master colourist who brings together an array of influences to create sumptuous Still Lives. Entering in the worlds that Home creates feels like stumbling into Coleridge’s Xanadu, his paintings burst with rich jades and crimsons, exotic objects and enigmatic narratives. Home’s artistic practice has always been deeply influenced by mythology. His earlier work invoked Charon, the ferryman who herded souls along the river Styx to the underworld. It is in these early paintings we can see the beginning of his experiments with light, dark and shadow and his fascination with the cycles of life and death. In 2001 Home’s attention turned to the Still Life genre. The artist says “I picked up some Chinese porcelain bowls at auction, including one from the Kangxi period” (1662-1772). These objects opened up a new direction and a new vernacular for Home’s work. They became the cornerstone of his now recognisable style. He has relentlessly perfected his technique combining his gift for colour with carefully considered composition. Home plays with theStill Life genre; even though figures are no longer the explicit focus of his work he incorporates them through the characters that decorate the fabric and bowls. Employing the motifs and symbols in an ever-evolving set of fables and parables.
Home’s iterative vocabulary includes playful children, blooming lotus leaves and vertiginous mountains. He creates tension in his painting by imbuing his objects with competing sentiments. The focus of the foreground is dedicated to the realm of the senses; the sensual and the erotic:overripe fruits bursting with seeds and dripping with juices. The fecund images remind us that ripeness comes before rot. Like Dutch masters before him, Home employs fruit and flowers as a momento mori, a subtle reminder that all things are subject to inevitability of death. The backgrounds balance the compositions, reserved figures and static objects reference the strictures of culture and civilisation. Home has an obsessive attention to detail. Curating the objects, perfecting the angle of light and photographing each scene up to 200times as if sketches for his large painterly works. However, this process does not exclude the opportunity for improvisation. Home says he’ll often come across a flower or fruit and add it in to the composition on a whim. He refers to the joy derived from ‘extemporising’, composing and performing with the elements until they come together transcending their daily functions and combining to create a kind of theatrical beauty. Home’s work owes a debt to the masters from Velázquez to Caravaggio echoing their penchant for chiaroscuro and drama.