Derek Cowie doesn’t like to make things easy for himself. The artist revels in the awkward and the uncomfortable. “I like making things difficult”, he says. “And I want to engage in difficult subjects.” Cowie has long been motivated to make work that addresses the somewhat polemical subject of climate change and the global environmental crisis, albeit in often curious and circuitous ways, and if his work leads to some robust discussion then all the better.
In his latest series of paintings Cowie’s meditations on environmental devastation, the failings of contemporary society, and the dawning of dystopic fictions are visually manifested in the modest architectural edifice of the stadium or grandstand. Here, the notion of the spectacle and the spectator take centre stage. A familiar regional site, the grandstand may be taken as a symbol of community and collective entertainment. Cowie endows this quotidian structure with a distinctly ominous quality that calls into question the notion of surveillance. With the scenes devoid of audience or activity, it is unclear who or what is being observed. Perhaps we are looking at a post-apocalyptic landscape and these structures are the last remnants of our society. Flags or flames lick at the sides of stadiums, which sit upon barren, blackened and cracked earth. In one work oozing lurid green magma runs down from the stadium to form a river. Painted surfaces give the appearance of weather whipping through the scenes, threatening to engulf the structures or severing them efficiently in two.
Despite their manifestly bleak qualities there is an unexpected grace to be found in these painted surfaces. Cowie paints with a furious rhythm that is both disquieting and remarkably rousing. There is a pulse to these works; paint rushing through the canvases as if they were living, breathing things.