Mike Cockrill Bio, 2015
Classically trained at the most traditional of art schools, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Mike Cockrill launched one shocking assault after another on the art world with his early work in the 1980s. From the psychosexual mayhem of his 1982 graphic novel The White Papers, to his brash cartoon paintings of JFK, Ronald Reagan and the American Family, to large expressionistic paintings of pubescent girls, Cockrill established himself as a pioneer of the sexually charged narrative figuration that would emerge in the 1990s. Now, after three decades of art making and more than 20 solo shows, it’s apparent that Mike Cockrill’s oeuvre defies easy definition or classification. His figuration is multi-layered in references and meaning, and constantly evolving. He has worked through tongue-in-cheek yet darkly disturbing depictions of adolescent girls calmly killing clowns, to sweetly painted scenes inspired by children’s book illustrations that tweak the sexual suggestiveness he has found there. His art references have swung from Norman Rockwell to Goya, from Japanese erotic woodcuts to children’s book illustration.
In 2012 Cockrill made a dramatic shift in his work with his “Existential Man” series. In simplified modernist paintings and sculptures, Cockrill portrayed wire-thin, forlorn figures, which are both a nod to Giacometti and to the tragic/comic characters that appear in early films and cartooning.
More recently, in his newest series of paintings, the creative process itself becomes the subject as young boys and girls are depicted painting the incomplete images of the paintings they themselves inhabit. Who creates whom? Does the artist create the painting or does the painting create the artist?