I am essentially a landscape artist propelled along by an intense environmental conscience. I’m not looking ‘at’ the landscape, I’m looking ‘into’ it. — Derek Cowie, 2022
Derek Cowie (b. 1956, Ruatōria, New Zealand) lives and paints in Pōneke Wellington. Cowie’s work is represented in several public collections including Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. The artist exhibited with Peter McLeavey Gallery throughout the 1980s before moving to London where he worked as a scenic painter for the National Theatre and as an award-winning visual artist for film and television, before eventually returning to Wellington in 2015. Working across various mediums and styles, his practice often delves into obscure art historical and cultural resources, unerringly motivated by strong environmental concerns.
Cowie often depicts utilitarian objects and vessels – teacups, saucers, jars, jugs – as carriers of meaning and symbolism. Many objects have appeared in Cowie’s work over several decades, to the extent that the artist has developed a kind of iconography or visual system based on these ‘core objects.’ Fractured milk jugs and Chinese ginger jars are loaded with associations of the environmental impact of the dairy industry and New Zealand’s trade economy. The surface of an upturned teacup is overlaid with the recognisable image of American painter Winslow Homer’s The Veteran in a New Field (1865), a work exemplifying that boundless tension between grief and hope. Another cup depicts an inverted bucolic landscape with a small stone foot bridge in the foreground, delicate light reflections bouncing off the imagined glossy surface, drawing attention to the inherent veracities of the rolling landscape and the artifice of painting itself. Here, these everyday objects of domesticity become new vessels, baring the load of another everyday reality; that ever-looming threat of climate change and economic collapse.