No such colour

Updated: Jul 20

Derek Cowie is a painter. Here he briefly discusses the mysterious Cadmium colour, environmentalism, and eye baths.




What materials are integral in your work?

In my work, I use the paint colour Cadmium White. There is no such colour! It is an invention, a frame, and a place where I bring my observations and reading together to distill into objects. In this case, paintings.


Cadmium Red, Orange, and Yellow are actual colours. The heavy metal Cadmium (Cd48) occurs naturally but with increased use of superphosphate fertilizer levels have increased dramatically. There is a government guideline that identifies animals older than 32 months as toxic for humans (they say offal, but soft tissue is soft tissue).

What themes do you pursue?

It is perverse that a toxin, Cadmium, which binds and interferes with the functioning of vital cellular components, has parallels with art. Artists want ideas to bind, take hold and ideally alter cognitive functioning. To influence.


So the driver of my work is environmentalism. Art is where we describe, define, and articulate who we are, where we are, and what we do.


What research do you do?

I read George Monbiot, Mike Joy, Polly Higgins, Naomi Klein, and many others.





What project are you working on now?

With these current paintings, I have come full circle. They are simple images that anyone can understand at first reading. They are egalitarian and inclusive.


Throughout the 20th century much art was obscure, elitist, and, to use a painterly term, opaque. Work by a few for a few. Hand in hand with these ‘elite’ practices is the rise of Neoliberalism.


The term Neoliberalism was invented at a meeting in Paris in 1938. Among the delegates were two men who came to define the ideology: Ludwig von Mises and Freidrich Hayek. Both exiles from Austria, they saw social democracy as exemplified by Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal and the gradual development of Britain’s welfare state as examples of collectivism that occupied the same spectrum as Nazisim and Communism.


Hayek rejected political freedom, universal rights, human equality, and the re-distribution of wealth. The freedoms of the opulent, he contended, should be absolute.


An example of this thinking and activity being played out is the fact that in New Zealand ninety million shits are deposited every day and most of that is untreated. Dairy farming here is the ultimate Neoliberal activity. Have it all now and pay later, this belief in the ultimate negation of belonging.


Do you collect anything?

I collect eye baths. I have 96, all of them different.


All photos by Ryan McCauley.


Derek Cowie

4 – 27 April

Page Blackie Gallery

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