When looking at any of Jonathan Delafield Cook’s charcoal drawings the eye at first seizes and consumes the image purely as a kind of specimen, not yet seduced by its surface textures. Whether he is presenting inanimate forms (such as nests or shells), or living creatures (like birds, cattle, or marine mammals), each item is shown as an isolated type against a white background, in a way that simultaneously evokes both the exacting empiricism of the laboratory, while also suggesting the artificial neutrality of the photographic studio. Delafield Cook’s things are most often seen in profile, as if preserved in a kind of airless formaldehyde. They line up in the mind’s eye like the bottled creatures that used to adorn the shelves of schoolrooms the world over.
Purdy Hicks is delighted to present an exhibition of new work by Jonathan Delafield Cook which takes as its inspiration the research and travels of Charles Darwin, specifically his voyage on the Beagle 1831–36. Starting work on the series in 2009, in conjunction with the 150th anniversary of the publication of ‘The Origin of the Species’, it features beautifully detailed charcoal drawings of marine life - from barnacles (a particular obsession of Darwin) to an awe-inspiring full-scale sperm whale.
The works in this exhibition continue Delafield Cook's investigation and celebration of diverse sections of the natural world – the subject of his investigations may follow different themes, yet the research-led approach and rigorous observation, not to mention the stark formal qualities of Delafield Cook's works continue independent of any theme.
Drawn to subjects for their graphic, abstract or tonal potential, Delafield Cook plays both with scale and the sense of familiarity/strangeness of his chosen subjects, as well as the properties of his preferred medium - charcoal. The sensual quality of the charcoal – the material that Delafield Cook has worked almost exclusively with in his work - is at odds with the precise and finely-detailed results that Delafield Cook achieves. Although there is a close relationship between the realism of the works and the medium of photography, Delafield Cook states on the subject that ‘the artist is more patient than the camera’.
Each form is recreated with such meticulous attention to detail that we understand implicitly that these images sit on the threshold of scientific enquiry. And yet ultimately every one of them is based on subjective impressions, resulting from repeated observation and acquired knowledge, rather than being a transcription of a single photographic moment.
(Text by Ian Warrell, taken from the catalogue accompanying the exhibition )
Alongside the exhibition at Purdy Hicks Gallery, Jonathan Delafield Cooks Nests will be exhibited at Colnaghi, 15 Old Bond Street, W1S 4AX 2 May - 1 June 2013