Mike Cockrill: The Existential Man

November 14, 2013 - January 15, 2014


Kent Fine Art is pleased to present Existential Man, new paintings by Mike Cockrill. In his most recent body of work, Cockrill breaks into fresh territory with a series of mordantly witty paintings that mine the artist’s thirty-year practice of drawing, cartooning, and doodling. These astringent, abbreviated figures are skillfully constructed, and rendered in a pitch-perfect palette that conveys—in the artist’s words—“the earnest cheerfulness of a therapist’s waiting room.”

Mike Cockrill has been making conceptually engaged, socially challenging work since he first began showing in the East Village in the early 1980s. Cockrill—who grew up in the suburbs of Washington, DC, in the late 50s and early 60s—has a particular affinity with the pop-culture images of postwar America, and their darker subtexts. A classically trained painter, Cockrill also has the skills to understand an idiom and then deftly twist it, literally and conceptually. He has been doing this from his early cartoons, which are hybrids of suburban cheeriness and Indian-miniature eroticism, to his later paintings that adopt the cloying style of 1950s children’s book illustrations while exposing their undercurrent of sexually charged fantasy. 

With Existential Man, Cockrill has invented a character who seems to have stepped out of the 1960s, but who, unlike the confident adman in his Brooks Brothers suit, is a hapless middle-manager in a short-sleeved cotton-poly shirt, with a bad buzz cut. Cockrill’s deft use of period detail signals to us what his character is not as much as what he is. He will not be having martini lunches and rising to the top of the postwar American dreamscape. Instead, Cockrill’s Existential Man is an everyman who inevitably finds himself in extremis in the midst of mundane everyday routines, who has no real chance in the land of opportunity, and who still carries dutifully on.

In conjunction with the Existential Man paintings, in our project room we will be showing work from Cockrill’s The Ink Spots (1996–97), a series of drawings in which the artist developed images from random splashes, drops, and blobs of ink. Cockrill adopts automatism’s classic strategy to access images that investigate the figure of the clown and its relationship to minstrelsy, as well as its intersection with early depictions of Mickey Mouse, which themselves had roots in blackface. 




"Mike Cockrill"

ArtNEWS | March 2014 | Kiki Turner

"Mike Cockrill: The Existential Man"

Artslant | December 2013 | D. Dominick Lombardi

"The Last Look: Mike Cockrill"

PAPER Magazine | 2013 | Carlo McCormick