Shape up

The work of Doug Cocker has a touchy-feely quality, discovers Gill Roth at the Scottish sculptor’s major show.

This exhibition of Doug Cocker‘s sculptures and drawings at Edinburgh‘s Talbot Rice Gallery is interesting not least because it highlights some of the contradictions and compromises faced by an artist who. having quit teaching to become a full time sculptor in 1990. now depends entirely on public commissions for his bread and butter. Despite a strong. proven track record of major commissions Cocker has plenty of nightmare stories about his dealings with the ‘men in suits‘ who he says ‘not only think art is a total irrelevance but hate it with a vengeancef

Looking at the weird scale relationships and chunky, cartoon shapes in his drawings of surreal objects bouncing through a landscape, the paintings of Philip Guston immediately spring to mind and it tums out that Cocker is a fan of the artist. The drawings don't play second fiddle to the sculptures but it's easy to see which ones are made with a commission in mind because they have a certain neatness and sterility about them that is in direct contrast to his working drawing for Diaspora. one of

Two of the 30 chunky wooden shapes that make up Diaspora: a kind of sculptural stream of consciousness

The thirty Damson wood shapes that make up Diaspora are beautifully made and it's impossible

? not to be impressed by the craftsmanship and skill

. that has gone into producing each quirky piece. but

l Cocker is adamant that his decision to use wood was not so ruuch an aesthetic choice but a practical one.

‘I wasn't interested in perfectjoinery. I used wood

i because I could chum them out quickly on a band

saw.‘ From a distance the shapes have an elastic

f quality like rubber or leather and Cocker's speedy : process has maintained a directness and fluidity in

‘I wasn’t interested in perfect joinery. I used wood because I could churn them out quickly on a band saw.’

the finished pieces that has the spontaneity ofthe

drawings. The effect is rather like looking at a 3D train-of-thought. a kind of sculptural stream of

consciousness made as the ideas popped into his

head. Cocker is most pleased with these pieces and

sees himself pursuing this particular direction, but on a larger scale using ceramics. Whereas the free floating pieces of Diaspora have a

lighthearted. humorous quality, Calvin '3 Tools is

and i feel slightly guilty that it took rue so little time.‘

he says. But the success of Dias/nn'a‘s. abstract wooden forms that float across the wall like

% doodles or strange musical notes lies in the

instinctive play of making drawings with little or no 7 rational restraint. ‘I take a whole bundle of drawings l and transfer them into the wooden shapes but often his most recent wall sculptures. ‘l did it in an evening 5

they turn out quite different.‘ he says.

trapped behind glass and has a more sombre air of historical artefact, well used and now stashed away in some dusty. old museum. The wooden shapes are faintly reminiscent of domestic appliance but they could also have a more sinister use. like medieval

torture implements. ‘lt's a much more slow and

deliberate piece.‘ says Cocker. ‘lt has something of

the Scottish psyche about it, a pleasure in self-

.; punishment. the Puritan work ethic and guilt.‘

I Doug Cooker: .S'r‘alprare and Drawings 1987—1995. . 'la/bot Rice Gallery. Edinburgh Until 24 June.

- Form of life

Is ‘highly skilled execution and . craftsmanship’ a superficial theme for l a group shovt? Probably. Taking Form though is actually a more complex and interesting exhibition than it appears ' on the surface. It’s a diverse group of artists and a show worth seeing to l recognise the differences in their practice as well as the similarities. i What the artists do share is that the l production of their work is, in general, studied and time consuming. None more so than David Connearn’s. His drawings are made of hundreds of horizontal pen lines - each one tracing the slight irregularity of the last until the paper is covered and appears to ripple slightly. Connearn’s work emphasises the hermetic and repetitive aspects of making art. Diaspora is an installation of about 200 wooden objects by Douglas Cocker who digs repetition too. All the objects are about the same size and only slightly different in their final


form. This is similar in concept to much of American artist Allan

McColIom’s work from the late 803 but the variations aren’t as subtle or

Peter Randall Page makes rigid ‘natural’ forms out of stone. The image of ‘nature’ they present is hackneyed and unaffecting. Trevor Sutton’s paintings are somewhere between circular Rothkos and : coloured parquetry. Randall Page and 5 Sutton seem to come from a middle- aged school of English abstraction : where art wanders off into pure craft. i It’s maybe not a simple ‘generation 3 gap’ but Randall Page and Sutton’s



Caption scarlet: two frames from Tracy MacKenna's colourful video sequence

work seems increasingly irrelevant when seen beside the work of two young Scottish artists - Claire Barclay and Tracy MacKenna. Both Barclay

and MacKenna’s work communicates

something about what it is like to live in a city right now. Claire Barclay uses the formal structure of minimalism but her pieces are evocative reworkings of objects you sometimes find yourself staring at if you’re daydreaming. Her piece for this show is like a plastic

bus shelter seat. She concentrates on the experience of ordinary objects until it becomes poetic. Tracy MacKenna uses technology (computer graphics) to relate a kind of confused

' '90 thought process. This, amusingly,is . . . . . . . . ' . . ' . . ' ' visuallysimilartothenewTVadfor

Lil-lets - text emerges and disappears softly into a coloured background - but it says something very accurate about consciousness in urban space. It communicates dazed perceptions of the city. The tone is slightly paranoid but a voice you nevertheless recognise, from inside yourhead.

Probably the most striking piece in this exhibition is Gerard Williams site-specific work for the upstairs gallery. Williams began making strong, architectural shapes out of soft fabric for an exhibition at London’s ' Showroom Gallery last year. The piece for the Fruitmarket is a vast screen of blue material stretching from the floor to the ceiling. Its profile describes the contours of the borderline between Scotland and England on a road map. Half the artists in Taking Form are Scottish and half are English. Beyond the surface of their work there are 'many more subtle differences. (Robert Montgomery)

Taking Form is at the Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh 17 June -22 July.

The List 16-29 Jun 1995 59