Derek Cowie’s paintings are populated by everyday objects. Various domestic or utilitarian forms—a teacup, saucer, jug, book, and axe—are presented on a grand scale, at times threatening to overwhelm the viewer. Many of these objects have appeared in Cowie’s work over several decades, to the extent that the artist has developed a kind of obscure iconography or visual system, albeit one that is endlessly and intentionally flawed.
In his essay ‘Presenting the Neglect’, published in the catalogue accompanying the 1989 Artspace exhibition Disgust + Neglect: Introducing Derek Cowie, Robert Leonard contemplates Cowie’s treatment of the object. ‘The viewer is rendered insignificant in the face of the pompous significance of the insignificant’, writes Leonard. ‘These works address scale, but they do so by leaving questions of scale open.’ While a lot has changed since 1989, Cowie’s paintings remain steadfastly allusive. His disruptive tendencies often complicate or undermine his own visual system—objects, images, and meaning are overlaid one upon another— in a clear indication of the artist’s penchant for surrealism.
Cowie’s early environmental concerns, already evident in his works at this time, have also endured. The artist projects this growing sense of disquiet both in his oblique treatment of these objects, and more directly by painting or reflecting various scenes and warning symbols upon their surfaces. His work is permeated by a darkly satirical playfulness and a preoccupation with dystopian realities and speculative fiction. Cowie is interested in that space between perception and reality, in the notion of the tipping point, and that which will inevitably follow.