Nigel Cooke, artist: 'Painting is a love affair, but it is a curse as well'

Karen Wright meets the artist in his new studio in the countryside near Canterbury 

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The Independent Culture

Nigel Cooke's spanking new studio in the countryside near Canterbury is a long way from the romantic cliché of a painter in a grungy city attic. His wife, the architect Joanna Cooke, found the site, a bungalow with a large back garden, and designed and oversaw the construction of the glorious new space.

The requirements were "isolation, being near the sea and being near our house" and having a painter as a client demanded certain extras: big windows, good light and a good filter system to take away the fumes of turpentine that Cooke likes to splash around.

He has been here for about six years, moving his family – they have three children – down from Camden, in North London.

The studio is large with a lobby area tantamount to a gallery's private viewing space. There is a suite of white leather furniture where Cooke says he likes to sit and look at paintings. He admits that the gallery has been bringing collectors down to view them. His pending exhibition in New York City is largely presold, despite his protestations that "I do not think the art world is a friend of art."

Sitting in the lofty space on rolling office chairs, we are surrounded by large new canvases including an empty landscape, a departure for Cooke whose works normally include figures.

I ask where the ideas come from and he says, "We could be on a ski trip or driving the car and a small idea suggests itself. The idea I get for them is also the idea of getting there. I start working on it and then the image starts to grow."

That is not to say he finds it easy. It has taken him two years to complete the eight large paintings for the New York show. "A lot of these paintings are second time round. I cannot manufacture my work. I learnt that early on. I cannot do a Nigel Cooke as I do not know what it is."

Cooke's mysterious paintings have always seemed to carry an implied menace, as if something apocalyptic is about to happen just outside the painting's edge. The studio, though glamorous, has paint-streaked walls. When I comment on the plastic-masked floor he says that he is a messy, physical worker.

Cooke, born in Manchester in 1973, always knew he wanted to be a painter. He comes from a family of keen amateur painters and was always sketching and drawing. "I have been painting for 25 years. It is a way of seeing everything – everything becomes painting. It is a love affair, but a curse as well."

Nigel Cooke: Black Mimosa is at Pace Gallery, New York, to 24 October, www.pacegallery.com/newyork

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