Sunday, January 14, 2018

A Nkisi for Jeffrey Cook at Boyd Satellite

Years ago, at an informal art exhibit, I encountered some box sculptures that almost looked almost as if bits of old wood and wayward objects had arranged themselves into little spirit houses made from fragments of memories and traces of souls. The artist was Central City native Jeffrey Cook, whose career as a dancer had taken him around the world, but who remained fascinated by his grandma's hoodoo rituals that he experienced as a child. His life experiences made it easy to relate to both African art and surrealist sculpture, which he seamlessly incorporated into his found object assemblages. Over time, he became quite successful. His work was widely collected, and his future looked bright until hurricane Katrina struck in 2005. He survived, but his psyche was shattered by the death and destruction he found all around him.
He was 48 when he passed away in 2009, but his unique spirit enlivens this memorial retrospective exhibit comprised of works loaned by many devoted collectors including Andy Antippas, Ron Bechet, Pia Ehrhardt and Stella Jones. Many are untitled, but a large spirit vessel assemblage, top, invokes his vision via a melange of ropes, bones, gourds and fibers arrayed around a African hat like an anatomical appendage flanked by canoe oars on either side. Dangling below, and encased in the dark, waxy resins that give the piece its rich patina are a series of brooms that hark to his grandma's hoodoo spiritual purification rituals involving brooms and Florida water. Related themes appear in a series of “shield” sculptures including an Appreciation Shield for Ole George (dedicated to George Dureau), where a framework of dark poles support a fabric shroud inscribed with mysterious markings. Jacob's Ladder is a spare, modernist metal shield influenced by legendary Xavier University art professor John Scott. Amid all this, Cook's early box sculptures like Post Card Erratum, above left, seem even more iconic than they did when I first encountered them years ago, perhaps because they now stand as reliquaries housing the irrepressible Jeffrey Cook spirit that Xavier art professor Ron Bechet says “...keeps him alive: Jeffery was of – and is – New Orleans.” ~Bookhardt / A Nkisi for Jeffrey Cook: Memorial Exhibition of Jeffrey Cook Sculpture, Through Feb. 25, Boyd Satellite Gallery, 440 Julia St., 899-4218.