I’m thinking about the color orange because it’s winter and I need the heat. Carrie Cook, too, was thinking about the color orange while she painted the collection for “Second Chakra” on view at Goldfinch Gallery. Cook lives and works in Los Angeles, an area with no lack of heat, and it was precisely this enduring winter warmth that I sought when I visited the show.
The show is ostensibly about orange. The second chakra is often illustrated as an orange orb in Vedic medicine, as an energy center that “‘rules’ creativity, initiation, sexuality, [and] creating bonds,” according to Cook. She borrowed the title from a collage she made in early 2022—also called “Second Chakra,” also awash in orange.
The majority of this study is achieved through painting a literal orange (or possibly a clementine)—a juicy, stripped motif that appears on three of the four walls. Only two paintings don’t deal in fruit; instead, they play in fire.
In “Two Candles,” a pair of slender glass candleholders contain a fighting little flame. Beneath them is a cool teal slab of a table, and behind them, the darkness of nothing at all depicted in paint. The abyss of this painting makes it less still life and more scene-from-a-dream, a woozy perspective that shows up across the show, through darkness, repetition and odd angles that skew familiar scenes toward abstraction.
“Open Heart” shows two plates of toast (the toast shaped like hearts) with a soft egg yolk spilling onto the dry bread. Dappled strawberries sit on the breakfast plates and the discarded peel of an orange spirals toward the foreground. Separated from the cozy breakfast scene is half of the bare orange, isolated and appearing upright, either an invitation or a confrontation.
I didn’t come for confrontation, I came for heat. Specifically, the heat of Southern California in winter, where oranges peeled at breakfast are as welcome as a morning walk after eggs and toast. I turned away from the demanding little orange and sunk my gaze into “Thanksgiving Sunset,” a view from the driver’s side of a car heading east. An explosion of sunset is reflected in the side mirror and extends into the sky ahead, it bounces off the tops of cars and skitters across the dashboard. Anonymous drivers in the side mirror slide around a highway without any lines.
A slew of vehicles heading east—the commute home. These aren’t surreal paintings but there is something psychological, “dream-like,” as Cook put it in an interview with curatorial director Elizabeth Lalley, but not dreams themselves. They contain a mix of magic and mundane that can be almost-too-perfectly described by a scene like a ravishing sunset on an ordinary drive.
In an easily overlooked nook at the back of the gallery is a small painting, the eight-by-ten inch “Ruby Heart, Emerald Egg,” which contains no oranges and no orange. It’s a delicate painting made of beige, cream and brown. Two hands cross in the frame, not holding, but slicing through one another.
Viewing this painting I realized I wasn’t going to absorb the warmth that I’d wanted. What I received from the oranges, instead, was their refreshing tartness. The stinging sweet that cuts before it melts, oranges in winter when the fruit is the ripest. I was expecting to bathe in the orange. What I found, instead, were small, sharp dashes of orange, themselves bathed in black and teal. Not an icy teal that burns in its own intense way, but a deep teal that buried its cold into me.
“Descent,” a simple but detailed painting of an orange dropping into the frame, seemed like an intro and a summary. When I first arrived at it, I enjoyed it because of its emphasis on the orange itself: its spongy pith, its ember glow. After spending time with the painting, it dawned on me that the orange is so prominent in this painting because of the deep black background it rests on (or falls through). There’s a necessary darkness that makes the orange so bright, a mid-winter reminder of the fresh things that grow, even in all this snow.
“Second Chakra” at Goldfinch Gallery, 319 North Albany. On view through February 25.