Nigel Cooke is renowned for producing large-scale, meticulously realised paintings that depict fantastical, hyper-realistic scenes of urban decay. His work references a wide range of painting styles and traditions; his work is a collision between this artisan-like, labour-intensive approach to painting, and the immediacy of contemporary modes of image making. In To work is to play 2008, the title is both a slogan and an adage; a recurrent theme for Cooke is that of the ‘tortured’ artist — a stereotype he exploits to tragicomic effect in his paintings.
The detail in Cooke’s works is extraordinary — he uses surgeon’s goggles and extremely small brushes to execute his works. The refined details contrast with the enormous scale of the canvases. At a height of over two metres and width of almost four, To work is to play provides an immersive experience for the viewer, as it completely fills their field of vision. So much pictorial information is compressed into the minute details of the painting that it becomes impossible to comprehend the entirety of the composition. The viewer is denied a single, fixed perspective and is compelled to shift attention between the macro and the micro in a dynamic and active viewing experience.