Contemporary oil paintings - Janet Cook -
Janet Cook, “Bending over Backwards,” oil on panel, 34 x 12 in. The artist’s collection of work is on view in the exhibition “Defying Gravity and Expectations” at Dacia Gallery (New York) May 19–30, 2019.

By Janet Cook

Throughout our lives many things push and pull us in different directions, resulting in complex internal struggles. This show examines these struggles through metaphor and humor, running the gamut from imaginative combinations to straightforward realism.

Over the past couple of years I have experienced losses, including the death of my mother, which has led me to create more personal work. As Brits we tend to bottle up our emotions, and then, one day, we die. Before that happened, I decided to reexamine my own experiences and my relationship to art: my subjects and my media.

Contemporary oil paintings - Janet Cook -
Janet Cook, “Sacred and Profane,” oil on panel, 48 x 36 in.

I consider myself a contemporary representational artist. A common thread running throughout my work is my fascination with the figure: timeless, beautiful, and powerful. Additional inspiration comes from a variety of sources, ranging from the Old Masters to modern-day advertising, graffiti, and body art. My goal is to combine these elements, along with my own imagination, into a cohesive whole that intrigues and engages the viewer.

Contemporary oil paintings - Janet Cook -
Janet Cook, “#MeToo,” oil and ink on panel, 30 x 20 in.

Drawing has been my main focus for the last two years. I used to see it as a tool for planning paintings, but embracing pen and ink has opened up a whole new approach, and I now look for ways to combine it with other media such as watercolor and, more recently, oil. “#MeToo” combines two media: Micron pens in blue and black with Vasari oil paint in Prussian blue, Payne’s gray, and titanium white. The painting was inspired by my own personal experiences, but I don’t see the figure as a victim; I see her in control of her body and mind, confronting the past, and the viewer. The flowers in her hair are a nod to Frida Kahlo’s strength in adversity.

Contemporary oil paintings - Janet Cook -
Janet Cook, “Pulling, A Tangent of Opposites,” oil on panel, 60 x 40 in. (diptych, two panels 60 x 20 in. each)

“Pulling, A Tangent of Opposites” explores the intrigue and ambiguity between people in relationships and our perception of the situation when observed from afar. The original idea was based on a painting by Rubens of Hercules struggling with a serpent, while an angel looked down. As the composition evolved, I felt I needed to add more energy in the lower right portion of the painting, so I played around with adding objects and animals, and finally decided to just add another person; androgynous in looks, painted in a binary manner (black and white), this figure reflects our culture’s slow acceptance of differences in relationships and gender. This painting has been selected as a 2019 ARC finalist.

Contemporary oil paintings - Janet Cook -
Janet Cook, “Falling Up,” oil on aluminum, 60 x 40 in.

“Falling Up” is the third in a series of figures in free fall and flight. The original concept was based on a small drawing of four figures by Gericault, which in turn was based on a Rubens painting, “Fall of the Damned.” I loved how the figures entwined, so I sketched it. Back in the studio I hired four models separately to recreate the poses, playing around with different configurations. Serendipity played a part in the process too — when a drawing landed on the floor upside down, the figures were suddenly falling up, which had the more positive meaning of overcoming adversity. Despite this, there is still some ambiguity about which way they are going. I retained the feeling of a pen and ink drawing in this painting by outlining the figures and keeping some areas unfinished, revealing the underdrawing.

Contemporary oil paintings - Janet Cook -
Janet Cook, “Seventh Wave,” oil on aluminum panel, 48 x 36 in.

About Janet Cook:
Cook teaches workshops at the Art Students League, NYC, and holds a weekly class at the Pastel Society of America NYC. Cook currently serves as a member of the Arts Committee at the Salmagundi Club. “Defying Gravity and Expectations” is on view at Dacia Gallery (New York) May 19–30, 2019.

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