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Linda Cook image

Artist Linda Cook stands next to one of her paintings in her studio.

Ōtepoti artist Linda Cook has her artwork hanging in the Richardson Building as the 2023 feature artist for Art in Law, an annual exhibition featuring a recent Dunedin School of Art (DSA) graduate. Art in Law has been running since 2009.

Cook completed her Master of Fine Arts (MFA) at DSA in 2022, and the works from her MFA show form ‘Body of Evidence’ which will be on display in the Richardson Building until November.

The 14 works vary in size, but all are colourful abstract paintings done using cardboard as a support.

The title ‘Body of Evidence’ is both a piece of legal jargon but also evidence of the period of time she spent working on her MFA, Cook says.

A painter for 30 years, Cook had predominantly worked using linen as a support. When she started her MFA she gave aluminium a try and was “making some nice progress” when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

“I had no surfaces at home, I couldn’t get into the school, couldn’t get any supplies,” she says.

“I was kind of stuck. I didn’t have anything.”

A trip to Pak ‘n Save, however, changed all of this.

“I saw all these cardboard boxes and I thought maybe I could exploit this waste product.”

Re-using a material which has had a former life she says “meshes quite well” with her.

“To not just throw it out but to actually bring it about, and make it into something new, and maybe even appealing.”

It took her time to figure out how to work with cardboard as it was both malleable and pulpy. Initially she found that after spending time painting on it, she would come back the next day to find it had warped and shifted.

“I had to learn how to work with that.”

This led to Cook investigating agency and materiality, and accepting the atmosphere and materials she used would all play a part in her making process and final work.

“From then on, I just fell in love with it. It became a bit of an obsession: how to seal it, how to secure it, how to work with it so that we both got what we wanted.”

Not many artists use cardboard for painting on.

“Most of the time people in the commercial realm of art don’t favour it because they think longevity and investment and all that. So that kind of meshed with me as well because I kick against all that.”

Cook started her tertiary art education as an abstract painter, which she continued with for a few years after completing her bachelor’s degree, before she became very unwell.

“I became very sick and had quite a serious illness, it knocked me back a bit. I really struggled with what to do and how to do it because I had been working with industrial resins and enamels and I think that contributed to lowering my immune system, so I had to change my whole approach.”

She spent the next couple of years trialling “all manner of things” from surrealism to figurative, and all of it was “very autobiographical”.

“Then I started to work with nature whether it be sky, water or trees but they were really abstract versions. I was pushing the elements beyond their form to just give an inference of the article rather than a narrative.”

From there she got back into abstraction, realising that was where her “passion lay”.

“That was what really moved my emotions, more than a narrative.”

She has used water colour paint in the past, and will use acrylics to formulate ideas, but predominantly uses oil paint because of its depth of colour and texture.

“I like to really mess around with colour to get a little bit of overstimulation in the eye.”

Cook says she has an intuitive way of putting together colour combinations.

“I play with colour, I’m wanting something to electrify another colour.”

A few of the works featuring in ‘Body of Evidence’ are large in size. These came about because she was “really pushed” at art school to go beyond her “safety boundary”.

“I’m pleased I did, although being cardboard, they were really bloody difficult to work with, they would bend and warp and I would have to sandwich aluminium bars in between.

“They do have an impact, I can’t deny that, however I have gone back to my domestic scale again.”

She likes artist Thomas Nozokowski, a neo-casualist who embraced “quirky humour and awkwardness and the unfinished”.

“He always said that he liked his painting to be of a size that would fit a friend’s hallway.

“I really liked that, it sits well with my sort of socialist background not that whole capitalist style, big, bold, masculine scale works.

“And I’m a small person so they relate to me, the portrait format also relates to the human factor.”

The Art in Law ‘Body of Evidence’  exhibition opening will be held on the 9th floor of the Richardson Building, 5pm-7pm on Thursday, 27 July.

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