‘Roots’ is a series of paintings in which I am using myself and my own history/cultural bias and background as a way of making some universal questions more personal and manageable. These questions are centred around identity: where do I come from? What is the impact of nature and nurture on the formation of the self? How did 'I' come to be the person I currently am? The paintings draw from the different places I have lived and my cultural heritage, as well as experiences I’ve gone through. I wanted to incorporate iconography from medieval alchemy, and also to arrange the composition around the idea of tarot card symbolism, as well as symbolism related to the idea each piece is working with and the places or experiences they are drawing on.
‘Roots’ follows an almost chronological pattern, beginning with ‘The Tangle of Roots’. This painting utilises red as a symbol for blood and the tree for the family – nature rather than nurture. The full classical set of the four elements makes an appearance (earth, air, fire and water) as this can be understood as our starting point, the spark that generates what we eventually become. The tree itself is modelled on Yggdrasil, the Norse world tree, the centre and organising principle for everything.
Next is ‘The Body Within the Body’, which explores my British roots, albeit through common stereotypes involving water and rain. I wanted something predominantly in blues and greens, and also for there to be a ‘misty’, undefined quality to the image. These are also represented by the blue within the figure and the use of the alchemical symbol for water. The figure itself can also be understood as the self, the identity, being created and filled in by the culture.
The next painting, ‘The Memory of Fire’, deals with the time I spent living in South Africa, specifically my memories and impressions of my time there, which are dominated by landscape and violence. There are nods, once again, to stereotypes in the evocation of the wide open spaces of the savannah, of blue skies and ancient rock art, while the violence is suggested by the spray of red over and around the figure in the lower left. The image also uses the alchemical symbols for earth and fire.
The next painting, ‘The Thunder over Distant Mountains’ relates to my experiences after moving to South East Asia. Visually this piece was inspired by the many temples, and also draws on the iconography for gold and air. The idea here was related to personal change coming about through geographical change – up until my move I had been in several dark places, both mentally and physically, and this move allowed an opportunity to start over, become a bit less of a clenched fist.
The fifth painting in the series, ‘The Opening of Doors’, deals with a more general idea of individual change through seeing new places and doing new things (i.e. travel can help a person grow and change). The alchemical iconography is for both the earth and the Philosopher’s Stone, which is used here as an analog for change. The figure is borrowed from Da Vinci’s ‘Vitruvian Man’ and is used as a short-hand for a universal experience, as much as something can ever be considered to be ‘universal’.
The series is almost complete with only one piece remaining to be painted, although I do have ideas for two related series – one would be an abstracted, coded ‘mapping’ of places I have lived and that have personal importance to me. These will borrow heavily from aboriginal dot paintings as a means of presenting information in a way that would only mean something to the initiated. The second would relate specifically to negative experiences I have had personally, but that are also hardly unique to me: depression, drug abuse, violence, loss etc. The idea for this is to keep using the Tarot card layout, but with a more spare, minimal approach than even ‘Roots’ uses, as well as a more mixed-media technique.
We have all dealt with loss, in some form or other and this series of paintings all deal with a very personal loss, first of my mother, Patricia Anne Cole in 2016 and then my father, Barry John Cole, less than a year later in 2017. As with everyone else, my parents were probably the single most important factor in me becoming the person who I am today. For a long time after their loss, and even with the passing of time, finding the words to express the feelings after they died felt, and still feels, next to impossible. The paintings all try to express this sense of loss, albeit in slightly differing ways. Some of the paintings were fundamentally cathartic, an attempt at trying to capture and work through the sense of unreality I felt, the sense of something fundamental gone from my life and the world not being the same as it was before.
The three paintings below were attempts at coming to terms with my feelings in the months immediately after my mother died. ‘A Block of Muted Sensation’ was an attempt to express the numbness I felt in the immediate aftermath – the sensation of nothing being quite real, a world where colour and life seemed to only break through in small amounts and quite randomly at that. ‘Your Ghost’ was inspired by the Kristin Hersh song of the same name, and relates to the idea of being haunted by the dead, by the patterns and traces they leave in our minds and dreams. ‘For Everything That Was Lost’ was my attempt at capturing my feelings less than a month after my mother had died, and is also linked to a song by Korean post-rock group Jambinai.
‘A Mourning Air’ was created from a similar impulse in the months after my father died. The flashes of colour are there but so is the darkness and discomfort. The sacking and dark colour relate to the idea of sackcloth and ashes, of intense mourning. Likewise the small sculpture titled ‘Last Call’
Others of the paintings are also meant to function as a monument and memorial for my parents. ‘In the Company of Ghosts’ was painted not long after my mother died and, in a sense, is a cenotaph – a memorial for someone who died far away. ‘In a Silent Place’ has a similar impulse, although mixed with the same sackcloth and ashes idea previously mentioned, as well as hinting at a way I started to cope – the law of conservation of energy, which states that energy can never be destroyed, only changed in form.
This idea, this taking comfort from science was expressed in the following painting, ‘Between the Tides’. I’m an atheist, so rather than turning to religion for comfort, I turned to things that mattered to me and my family: art and science. My father was a scientist, so thinking about him in the months after his death led me to thinking about science and the conversations we’d had about it. This painting is meant to be a quite literal visualisation of the conservation of energy: the yellow shapes may break down into chaos, but, by the ‘end’ of the painting, they have reformed into something else.
There is the idea that art lives on long after we're gone, and that's what I wanted to do - create a legacy for them, in the only way I know how, so that some of who they were, what they did and what they meant to me will live on and never be forgotten.
The majority of my work tends to be abstract, but I do use (or possibly abuse) the human form in many of my pieces. This ongoing series 'Heads' is focused on the human head, abstracted and distorted, and I have been making these on and off over the past few years. These pieces almost all began life as abstract marks on a surface that, as they were worked, coalesced into forms that suggested faces or heads. They are all fairly small scale and are images I have been creating for over a decade now.
In some cases the suggestion of human form is quite vague, as in these examples, ‘Framed’, ‘Speaking With Knives’, and ‘Interior Landscape’. The three pieces below them were oils on canvas painted about 15 years ago and were heavily influenced by ‘tribal’ art as well as the work of artists like Auerbach, Picasso and Basquiat.
Many of the paintings include distortions of the human form, or hide it behind something, as in the following examples: ‘From Nothing’, ‘Nothing Special’, ‘Silent’, ‘Muted Sensation’, ‘They Keep Silence’ and ‘In Dreams’. These last two were inspired by the Post-Rock group Jambinai and T.S. Eliot respectively.
Other paintings feature a slightly more ‘realistic’ rendering of a human form, as in the examples below: ‘Preserving Beauty’, ‘Come Undone’, ‘At the Moment of Creation’ and ‘Emet’.
Many of the paintings, including some of those already shown, directly reference poems, songs or fiction. From left to right: ‘Ozymandias’ references the Shelley poem of the same name, with quotes from the poem weaving in and out of the layers of paint. ‘Film Ending’ was inspired by a poem of my own, with the text mostly buried under the paint, but raised up from the surface of the canvas. ‘Hands Down’ references a Larkin poem.
Several of the paintings also reference world events and politics, generally in a fairly angry way –from left to right, first row: ‘Gloaming’ (inspired partly by the US school shootings and referencing a Radiohead song), ‘Rise’ (also referencing a Radiohead song and related to resistance to oppression) and ‘When Truth is Uncertain’, which fairly blatantly riffs on Trump and his… loose association with facts and truth. The two paintings below that were painted while living in South Africa and are a straightforward depiction of violence and fear of violence.
A lot of my work draws inspiration from literature or poetry and this series does so very deliberately. The original idea for the series was inspired by the Borges story "Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius", in which artefacts from a fictional world begin to invade our 'real' world, slowing taking it over and erasing what was there before. Another point of inspiration was a Grant Morrison Doom Patrol story dealing with very similar ideas. The original idea was to create paintings which would, in a sense, function as artefacts from these worlds, blurring the line between reality and non-reality. ‘Orbis Tertius’, ‘The Multiplication of Falsehoods’ and ‘Towers of Blood’ were directly inspired by the previously mentioned Borges story.
The ‘world’ of the paintings has since expanded to include a range of fictional worlds. ‘From Nothing’ comes from a combination of the Borges story ‘The God’s Script’ and the work of Samuel Beckett all overlaid with a deep sense of cynicism and pessimism.
‘Indeterminate’ was also inspired by Borges, but in this case the story ‘The Garden of Forking Paths’, with green background and the maze being direct references. On the other hand, ‘Through a Glass, Darkly’ was inspired by Lewis Carroll’s Alice books, in which I was trying to capture the feeling of moving from one world to another, a sense of dislocation and uncertainty.
Both ‘Difference Engine’ and ‘Infernal Device’ were inspired by readings of Steampunk books. ‘Difference Engine’ functions as a kind of mash-up of William Gibson, chaos theory (represented by the butterfly) and chaos as an imperative of evolution, with the background labyrinth a stand in for the human brain and the overlaid gears as a steampunk lens. ‘Infernal Device draws from similar iconography, but also touches on the idea of sufficiently advanced technology seeming magical and mysterious.
The series is far from finished, with approximately another five or so ideas currently knocking about my head. All these paintings can, in a sense, be seen as remnants of fictional worlds, not just those created by Borges in his story, but in a variety of pieces of fiction or poetry which have all resonated with me strongly.
“A Better World”draws inspiration from science, mathematics, and philosophy, using and abusing both Euclidean and non-Euclidean geometry to imagine a new cosmology. Science and religion tend to be seen as the antithesis of each other, but both attempt to do much the same thing - explain the world around us, both the visible and the invisible. While this series may appear visually different to my other work, there is still a thematic link – these works deal with the interplay of science and belief, inspired by visual models of scientific and mathematical equations and equating these with the shapes of human thinking and understanding, something beyond rationality.
The genesis of these paintings, so to speak, came about after the death of my father. My dad was a scientist and, in a strange sort of way, I had been using science as a way of coping with the loss, the law of conservation of energy in particular. One of the paintings in the ‘In Mourning’ series was directly inspired by this (‘Between the Tides, shown below) and this led me to thinking of a series that would map out a world and worldview using science and philosophy.
The series can be read as a kind of cyclical narrative, with ‘Giving Birth to the Future’ as a starting point – the Big Bang, in a sense.
The second painting in the series, ‘Emergent Structures’, was influenced by the idea of cities (as a symbol of civilization and humanity) being a self-replicating organism of sorts, with ‘At the Heart of it All’ and ‘The Intensity of Surfaces’ following along a related path – human exploration and manipulation of the physical environment.
The next painting, ‘In Plato’s Cave’, relates to human perception and how we mentally construct the world. The painting is quite literally a visualisation of the cave Plato postulated as an image of how we perceive the world – as shadows cast on the wall of a cave.
The final painting in the series, ‘Suspended in Light’, can be understood as the end point of this imagined universe, the ‘Big Crunch’ to the first paintings Big Bang, but not as a full-stop, but as a leading back to the first point in the narrative, where everything begins again.
In November 2017 the paintings were shown at the MASH Gastropub in Shenzhen, China. They remained on display for the whole month.
With ‘A Better World’ I wanted to combine this positive view of science as a worldview, with my take on the early use of geometry in art, from the Russian Constructivists for example, as an expression of utopianism and optimism. These are probably the most hopeful and optimistic paintings I've ever done, using science, geometry and philosophy as a model or blueprint for an idealised, utopian world...
While most of my work is based on painting, generally acrylic on either canvas or paper, I do work in other media too. I do a fair amount of digital work, either ‘paintings’ or manipulated photographs, as can be seen on the site under the ‘Digital Works’ section.
The ‘Incursions’ series is a series of site specific, impermanent works. Each piece signifies an eruption into the real, the id invading the everyday, turning and facing the strange. Most pieces were based on something I constructed in some way and then photographed, but for the most part no longer exist apart from these treated and manipulated photographic images, which function as both an artwork in themselves and a recording of something transitory and lost. The images have been created over a period of years and will likely have more added to them with time.
They will eventually be made as limited edition archival Giclee prints, but for the time being exist purely digitally or as Open Edition prints from the Saatchi Online website.
The ‘Eschatology’ series is slightly different in that they are a combination of manipulated images and digital painting. This series is based on 10 scientific/mathematical equations related to the workings of our universe, as well as its beginning and ending. Each equation is expressed in 2 ways – the first is as a ‘dot’ painting, which relates to how the aborigines of Australia map out geographical space (landscape) with their dot paintings, as well as elements of the more metaphysical ‘Dreaming’. The ‘dot painting’ images in this series map out an intellectual space of ideas in a similar way, non-physical and loosely defined. The second expression takes the basic shape and pattern of the ‘dot’ painting and renders it, in my head at least, as something akin to Euclidean geometry (roughly equated to a mosaic style) floating in a formless non-Euclidean space (or void).
As with the ‘Incursions’ series, these will eventually be made as limited edition archival prints, possibly even on canvas, but for the time being can be gotten as Open Edition prints on Saatchi Online.
I have also recently been experimenting with print-making, specifically linocut. This is an unfamiliar medium for my, so the results are not quite what I’m looking for just yet, but I’m still enjoying the process of experimenting with the technique.
I’ve also recently bought the compounds needed for creating cyanotypes/photograms and plan on experimenting with these too – of course, once I’d received my order the Shanghai weather decided it was the perfect time to get rid of the blue skies and sunshine we had been enjoying up until that point and piss down with rain instead.
C’est la vie.
Once these experiments have yielded anything I like enough to show other human beings, they will find their way onto the site under a brand new shiny grouping, but for now I’ll keep on experimenting in the bits of time when I’m not working on my regular paintings.
So, taking a break from writing about my different painting series to mention an exhibition one of my pieces, 'A Black Rain over Hiroshima', is currently being shown in. After Hiroshima (and Beyond) is a show organised by IoDeposito, an Italian NGO (you can check them out at www.iodeposito.org). It started yesterday and will run until the end of October and features the work of 11 artists from 9 different countries, including yours truly, at the B#S Gallery in Treviso.
From the text published by the exhibition: "At the outbreak of the bomb, first there was light: a blinding fireball, that invested everything with unprecedented power. The artists Elin Slavik, Andrew Cole, Deimion Van Der Sloot and Uros Weinberger represent the atomic lightning from different points of view - by absence, in a materic or minimal way: light is the protagonist of a multifaceted reflection on the role of memory between past and present". And a bit more: "Andrew Cole captures the flash of light and paints the black rain of death that poured over the city".
A Black Rain Over Hiroshima (2016), Acrylic on paper
(40 cm x 30 cm)
Adorno said, in a different context, that writing poetry after Auschwitz was barbaric, and I have similar conflicted feelings regarding the portrayal of the bombs that dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the resulting destruction. While there are certainly some evocative and powerful images related to the event (such as the flash of light, the mushroom cloud and shadows burnt onto walls, but also the skeletal structure of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial itself and the descriptions of melted eyes and watches frozen at 8.15), it is one of those events in human history that I feel is too massive, too horrific for straightforward representation. This piece, A Black Rain Over Hiroshima, is an attempt at capturing the flash of light, as well as the idea of the shadow of death raining down from the skies.
I used a fractured calligraphic style brushstroke, not only to link to Asian art traditions, but also to convey a sense of movement and the explosive and destructive energy of the moment of detonation, as well as immediately afterwards - the fact that the strokes resemble calligraphic marks, but are in reality illegible, links back to my feeling that there are some things too large and terrible to straightforwardly represent. The varying density of the strokes, with a greater concentration near the top of the piece, links to the idea of something falling, or raining down, from above, while the increasingly emptied out spaces in the centre of the composition are meant to evoke the both the flash of light and the eradication of certainties that followed in the wake of the bombs being used.
Very pleased and proud to be a part of this exhibition. If anyone happens to be in or around Venice and Treviso, I recommend checking it out!
After a great deal of internal debate about what I should write about for the latest instalment of me talking to myself/shouting into the void, I settled on discussing the different series of works I have created. First up – The Middle Kingdom.
These paintings are all pieces inspired by the sights and history of China, where I am currently based. The starting point in some cases could be something directly from the landscape, be it natural or man-made, as in these two images.
The image on the left, “Across the Shoulders of the Dead”, came about after a visit to the Great Wall and deals directly with what it looked like (the graffiti scratched into the surface was taken directly from marks in a part of the wall. I went in winter, so the colour scheme reflects that more than the actual colours, as well as links to the stories of how many died to build the wall (I tend to think about the pyramids in much the same way – they are giant memorials for all those who died in the construction as well as towering achievements of human construction). The image on the right, “Early Autumn Mist”, is a more abstracted impression of early morning mist in my compound during my first autumn in China. I’d just come from a two-year stint in the Middle East, so the sheer amount of plant life and greenery struck me quite intensely.
I find China to be particularly evocative considering my thematic concerns and interests, with a wealth of history reflecting the wider rise and fall of civilizations. The three paintings above are examples of some dealing with this cycle – from left to right we start with early optimism leading to peaks leading to collapse and decay before cycling back to the beginning. As I am rather cynical, even the peaks and early idealism contain, in some ways, hints of later collapse. Other pieces, like those that follow, deal with the modern world, be it the noise and speed of the big cities, or the way people tend to be eaten by the machines we call the free market and history.
Other pieces have Chinese alchemy as an additional source of inspiration beyond the rise and fall of civilizations and dynasties, such as the images below:
The series functions, in a sense, as elements of a fragmented narrative, in which the pieces can be viewed in isolation or as pieces of a fractured whole. There is no linear progression through the images as such, no straightforward story being told, rather I am trying to evoke a sense of cyclical time, the constant rise and aspirations of humanity, as well as the inevitable fall and cynical decline: the ebb and flow of history through human traces and artefacts.
Unaccustomed as I am to public speaking....
So this is the part I've been dreading. I don't entirely understand blogs, as they seem to me to be a bit like a diary (meant to be private) but done for an audience. All of which means that right now I feel like I'm talking to myself in public with no idea if anyone is noticing. What I decided to do in this post was a kind of tour of the site as a whole and how it works, section by section.
If you have made it this far, then you may well have ascertained that I am an artist of sorts and this much is true. My name is Andrew Cole, and I am a British artist and teacher. I currently live, work and play along with my wife in Shanghai, but have previously lived in Thailand, Oman and South Africa (oh and France for a year when I was too young to remember much about it).
I've tried to make the site as straightforward and easy to use as possible. Current paintings and series are grouped together under the Menu heading of 'Paintings'. Clicking on an individual piece will link to a separate image, but all the details regarding title, medium, date, size and price can be seen in the initial slideshow. The 'Digital works' section is where I have grouped various digital artworks I have created. Links in the images here will take you to the relevant Saatchi Art page, where open edition prints are available. A quick note here about prints - those currently available are from the Saatchi site, but there will be, at a later date, high quality, limited edition Giclee on archival paper prints. When these are made available the details will appear on the image itself.
A further word or two on sales:
- none of the prices include shipping costs, which will vary depending on the piece being bought and the final destination.
- work available for sale is marked as such, along with the price. Work that is sold, is obviously marked as 'sold'. Prices, incidentally, are in US dollars. Work that has no listed price (mostly in the 'Archive' section, but also in some instances under the 'Paintings' section) may be available for sale, but is in storage in either Thailand or South Africa and will possibly be a bit more complicated to send.
- if you are interested in buying any of the art, please contact me directly through either the form on the contact page, or through one of the social media links.
And finally, if you would like to see more work, I have a larger portfolio at https://artavita.com/artists/14899-andrew-cole. Feel free to have a look around.