Somewhere in low Earth orbit, the Hubble Space Telescope adjusts its sensors to 13.4 μm. Measuring the redshift at the edge of the known universe against the local galaxy environment, it produces a thermal image of the expanding cosmos. Somewhere in Brooklyn, Phil Cote adjusts a Cadmium Yellow Medium with a Cadmium Orange, brightly delineating the edge of a canvas.
"DEEP FIELD," the painting announces like a SIGNAL AHEAD sign along some intergalactic highway. Its boundaries contain a collection of tiny dots and dabs of oil paint, attentively applied with a #1 synthetic brush, signs for distant celestial events which sit across the painting's shallow pictorial surface.
Cote's constellations of logos, graphics, and informational interfaces, playfully culled from consumer culture, quickly détourn to the realms of ontological and perceptual paradox. The flame from a Bic lighter illuminates a field of Payne's grey, bracketed with Magritte-esque aplomb by the claim Absolute Reality (2019). Its status as pictorial object recalls Hockney's enigmatic gesture of offering a light to his painted subject in the 1974 film A Bigger Splash. A TASCAM DR-40X 4-channel Handheld Recorder is framed by sinusoidal wave charts in Acoustic Ecology (2020), its noise levels peaking in silence. Cote is engaged in the act of painting at a time when the platforms of our digital era are flattening all modes and forms of expression to the baseline level of "content" - indistinct, equivalent, interchangeable. A highly engineered aluminum case, perhaps a metaphor for this situation, is striped with hazard markers and warns us cryptically of it's Unknown Contents (2020). In this ominous cargo, all information occupies the fugitive state of Schrödinger's cat. To open the container may uncover the set of all possible realities, or simply the message "404 Error: Page Not Found."
It is an odd disjuncture then, that the works often distant, incalculable subjects pivot on a primary compositional strategy of checkered border and bold pattern. Reminiscent of Pennsylvania Dutch quilt-making traditions, the works' geometric abstractions exude a familiar, warm domesticity. They seem to want to function like Tibetan door mantras, or needlepointed truisms - protecting some private space, providing persistent reminders, or offering kernels of wisdom, albeit obscured in oil. The pendant from Deicide's 1990 eponymous album glares at us through glowing, cadmium red eyes, like some home altar turned sentient, in Strange Presence, (2019). Recalling the cardiovascular confectionaries central to Billy Al Bengston's Valentines, the nexus of Happy Home (2020) pulses out along a nerve network to two nodes, more cubist heart-locket than Peter Halley prison cell. "A proper painting is like a happy home," its grayscale architecture seems to assert, "in firm foundation and abiding balance."
Why paint these strange glyphs of technologically mediated meaning? With a flood of information making the separation of signal from noise increasingly difficult, and more devices than people on earth, the perceiving machines seem to have made themselves at home. Cote's domestically-scaled works offer an intimate look at the impenetrable matrix of the present, bringing it into our own tactile languages of paint, canvas, wall and room. Like the inscription along the edges of Edward Hicks' 1892 The Falls of Niagara, their borders tame the "dread magnificence sublime" of our moment, as if to comprehend it, and invite it inside.
- Jed Ochmanek
Phil Cote (b. 1983, Burlington, VT) lives and works in Brooklyn, NY. He received his BFA from Rhode Island School of Design in 2005. Over the last 15 years, Phil has explored a variety of media including painting, drawing, collage, performance, installation, sculpture, sound, and music. He has also worked collaboratively, as part of the art collective, BOBO (co-founder, 2007). In September 2020, Bobo was included in Junque, a group exhibition at Massimo de Carlo, London. Phil’s most recent solo work (2019-20) focuses specifically on oil painting; executed in a semi-painterly manner, with nods to conceptual art, minimalism, and design fundamentals. The decision to make a full return to oil painting came during a trip home while destroying old work. This will be his second solo exhibition in New York.