- The Puzzle | Mike Cockrill | oil on canvas | 36” x 30” | 2012
If you're familiar with the work of Mike Cockrill, it's most likely for his "little girl" paintings. The series contains lots of cutesy filigree—teddy bears, pickets fences, butterflies—juxtaposed with clowns getting their heads blown off by sexualized pre-adolescents in knee socks. An unsettling mix of the horny and the sentimental—nostalgia and eroticism are inextricable according to Cockrill—the work contain echoes of Henry Darger and John Wayne Gacy in the style of Norman Rockwell. Technically flawless, the paintings caused an unsurprising amount of tumult when they appeared in the early '90s, at the height of the anti-porn feminist critique, but cemented Cockrill's reputation as an artist willing to take risks. When asked if the prevalence of sexual imagery on the Internet has changed the way his work is received now, Cockrill says, "It has allowed us to look at the paintings' subject and not be shocked by the nudity and violence itself. College students today can enter the paintings in a different way."
That's the background of the button-pushing artist we're featuring on the cover this month. The Puzzle isn't quite as gory or as erotically charged as a Tarrantino film, but it does present another set of classic Cockrill insights into the human condition. "Existential Man," a series of 14 paintings completed between the fall of 2012-13, documents in visual form what books like The Organization Man and The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit explored in the 1950s—the emptiness at the heart of the capitalist experiment.
In The Puzzle, Existential Man is taking himself apart. "It's a test," Cockrill says. "He has figure out how to put himself back together. He's being tested to see if he is up to the task." Another interpretation: Existential Man has nothing to do at this job all day but think about his existence as a mid-level functionary. His work requires neither physical strength nor mental engagement, leaving him to ponder his fate while watching the hours fall off the clock.
Through the end of September, you can see Cockrill's "Existential Man" series at Lift Trucks Gallery, 618 Route 22, in Croton Falls. No ordinary gallery, Lift Trucks is a drive-by gallery—all the works are projected to be seen from the outside, while passing by. A 78"-by-78" painting fills up one window, 15 images are projected onto a 64"-by-84" canvas screen in another window. The projections are shown from 8pm until midnight nightly.