A belief in materials lies at the heart of the work of Jan Riske and Justin Cooper.
Both artists are making artwork where the transformative processes of the media themselves are revealed through a rigorous system driven by means of making.
For Riske there is a turn towards modernism: the encapsulation of space and order through his consistent use of the grid. It is a formal device through which he shapes his paintings and constructs an image. This is coupled with a dogmatic singular method of application that infuses the paintings. There is a sense of the micro and macro and the artist invites the viewer into the space of the picture in which every ordered mark is a world in itself.
His works seem to have as much to do with conceptualism’s programmatic means of making as they do with abstraction. From the artist’s position of having lived through painting’s interminable crisis and constant reinvigoration by one generation after another, it only seems fair and obvious that his work would build upon, and borrow where need be, from the ideas gone beforehand.
Physically, there is a sense of archaeological discovery as well. One set of marks, colour and application is built on top of another until the material dissipates, leaving only the sense of order and colour that may be their true subject. In Riske’s work, image, application and process each have their own reward and they are masterfully brought together to deliver images of intensity and contemplation.
There is a revelatory process in the work of Cooper, who works across painting and drawing to ceramics. In his drawings and paintings there is a sense of Cooper trying to impose his own sense of order onto a world now understood through the Internet. It is the source through which we, in Australia at least, gain our knowledge, its disparate strands providing fodder for a media rich life.
Cooper’s work is as much about the form that information takes or how it is delivered, as the information itself. He incorporates the information and the time in which the imagery of the works is sourced into his work’s titles and this is an important part of understanding his process. Made using the materials of an illustrator (touch markers, ink, gouache…), his works are jewel-like, cosmic doodles seen through the filter of the light of the flat screen.
In his experimental ceramics he also incorporates the information gleaned during the work’s construction, but here there is emphasis on a controlled disorder brought about by a joining and mixing of materials that are subsequently fired in the kiln over and over. The kiln itself acts as arbiter, an altar of sorts where offerings are left and faith in its ability to deliver is paramount.
Seen together, the works of Cooper and Riske deliver us an essay on faith – an artist’s faith in materials and in process. Both artists seem to have a belief in the potential of art to transcend its baseness and turn the secular into the transcendental, like some strange alchemist turning lead into gold.
Glenn Barkley, 2015