Cojo strikes universals in a Castle

Ten eight foot long canvases

17 OCTOBER 2014,
Cojo
Cojo

Three thousand square feet of the Castle Fitzjohns Gallery have been taken by Cojo, the art juggernaut: ten eight foot long canvases populate its walls.

The space has been sluiced in the 72 signature colors that invariably form Cojo’s acrylic pallet. The color simplicity of Chuck Close’s portraits inspired Cojo, or shall we say Colin C. Jorgensen, to pare down his pallet for a consistent feel across paintings. These highly saturated colors were divided in: outline color (darkest shade), deep shadow, secondary shadow, pure color, highly and super highly, as Cojo like to call them. The overall effect produces bright vivid paintings that demand attention loudly.

The composition is almost every time a tumultuous ensemble of irregular meandering patterns formed out of sinuous figures and expressive faces. Cojo started his career in the mid nineties working for Marvel Comics, and he has developed his style along the way around the forms of the cartoon.

Cojo was raised by a political cartoonist and a graphic designer, glimpsing the big city from his New Jersey home. New York brought him soon into the world of professional illustration where he has developed his path to mastery. The Rolling Stone Magazine, ESPN, MTV, and Nike have displayed his works of daring urban contemporaneity; and there is a perfect continuity from his illustrations to his paintings. Perhaps the most indicative nexus between the two was his Sketch 365 experiment. Endowing the experiment with personal significance, Cojo started a year long experiment in 2005 on the anniversary of his birth. The experiment consisted in a closely documented sketching exercise where a single 8 ½’’ x 11’’ finished original pencil line-art drawing was published every day of the year, leaving a body of 365 original drawings. Those original sketches have been thematically reorganized into the large paintings that sit today at Castle Fitzjohns Gallery.

It’s not a casual reorganization. The author makes sense out of his childhood memories in a game of introspective memory that has taken him to the early days of his own personality. Cojo child, dressed with the striped pyjamas of the educational institution that civilizes, that normalizes, revels against the subjects they want to force into him and escapes happily to his own creative spaces, to his own ten subjects of freedom and fulfillment. These are the fantasies of a child, of a young juggernaut that hasn’t been bent by the weight of discipline and social normalization. Those daydreams full of that pristine enthusiasm that vanishes over time are retrieved by Cojo in this collection of paintings. Collection loaded with strong expressions of lasciviousness, skepticism, irony, laughter, anger, joy, and purpose, which look directly at you. These paintings stare back to you, in front of them you feel observed. Sometimes a fistful of characters, sometimes the whole painting stares at you. One by one, daemons, superheroes, aliens, or impossibly voluptuous women scrutinize you raising the question: Where did you leave your dreams?

That’s precisely the challenging attitude of the author when interviewed by Oscar Laluyan for ArteFuse: “Take a piece of paper and write the ten esses (the 10(S)ubjects) that you really got zoned out to or you’d thought you’d do some day but you never pursued, and start living them a little bit. You can get those subjects back. I challenge everybody to find their own ten subjects.”

Everybody should find their own individual subjective subjects, just like Cojo rescued his own early reveries. Therefore, these would be nothing else but Cojo’s 10(S)ubjects of his young imagination… Those places where his day dreams used to find joy and exploration. In fact, the fantasy of a child escaping to creative landscapes and the memory of an adult diving into his youthful dreams, seem to be perfect examples of alpha states where individuals gain the ability to access their subconscious mind. These 10(S)ubjects come from the depths of an individual mind, however they seem to be rather familiar. These are their titles: (S)ea, (S)ocialite, (S)traphanger, (S)pace, (S)torytime, (S)ex, (S)uperhero, (S)ports, (S)in and (S)lumberland.

The (S)ea, which is Cojo’s first Subject, is the oldest representation of the mystery within ourselves. The Old Testament depicts a tempestuous sea that hides serpent-like wise and terribly dangerous monsters such as the dragon Rahab, the Behmoth, or the Leviathan. The Odyssey, West’s originary tale of self discovery, takes place throughout the capricious waters of the Aegean Sea. During the Middle Ages the doctors of the Church believed that the known land was enclosed together by four seas that completed the world. The sea has long been symbolizing the depths of the mind. Take the “moods of the sea” by Japanese painter Katasushika Hokusai in the XVIII century, or the inwards fight of Captain Ahab in the famous Melvill’s novel, or the subconscient sea obsession of André Breton and many of the surrealists. C. G. Jung put it with extreme clarity: “The sea is the symbol of the Collective unconscious, because unfathomed depths lie concealed beneath its reflecting surface. The sea is a favorite place for the birth of visions (i.e. invasions by unconscious contents).”

Isn’t it the very creative aim of Cojo’s 10(S)ubjects series? Aren’t they opening a space for the free flow of remembered perhaps dreamt child’s fantasies? (S)ea (S)torytime and (S)lumberland share a common underlying theme that points to the genesis of this series of paintings: the invasion of unconscious contents. These are symbols that exceed the individual psyche, since they appear consistently across distant cultures that never had the opportunity to communicate with each other. Jung recognizes these eternal symbols as derived from the collective unconscious, that is, the part of the psyche that retains and transmits the common psychological inheritance of mankind. These symbols are often times so ancient and unfamiliar that could deceive the artist that gives them form.

The myth of the hero that we find in (S)uperhero and (S)ports appears replicated in the classical mythology of Greece and Rome, in the Middle Ages, in the Far East, and among contemporary primitive tribes. Structurally they are very similar, a universal pattern, even though they were developed by groups or individuals without any direct cultural contact with each other—by, for instance, tribes of Africans or North American Indians, or the Greeks, or the Incas of Peru. Over and over again one hears a tale describing a hero's miraculous but humble birth, his early proof of superhuman strength, his rapid rise to prominence or power, his triumphant struggle with the forces of evil, his fallibility to the sin of pride (hubris), and his fall through betrayal or a " heroic" sacrifice that ends in his death.

The eternal feminine or the anima archetype worked as a universal symbol even before the Venus de Willendorf was sculpted, and it’s developed through its mythological levels of understanding: Eve, Helen, Mary, and Sophia. Cojo presents the anima from two different perspectives, as the male’s object of desire in (S)ex, and as a path of completion in (S)ocialite. (S)pace belongs to the eternal symbols of transcendence. They concern man's release from, or transcendence of, any confining pattern of existence, to move toward the full realization of his potential. Shamans wearing bird masks, staffs and costumes can be found as early as the Paleolithic period of prehistory. The bird symbolizes breaking free to reach the highest potential. (S)pace embraces this idea by assembling four elements inherently linked to personal growth symbology. The bird is substituted by spacecrafts that fly across the canvas, and UFOs, spheres, and an unexpected future are introduced. Jung has repeatedly explained the UFOs as a projection of a psychic content of wholeness that has at all times been symbolized by the circle and the sphere. The future is the promised land of the actual realization of that unknown potential that culminates life in a sphere of wholeness.

(S)in portrays a hellish scene full of a diversity of grotesque daemons that could have been taken from the infamous Dictionnarire Infernal. The Aztecs feared the cruel spirits and the cutting winds of the Mictlan, the Babylonians were condemned to eat and drink dust at the Irkalla, and the Hindus were temporarily tormented at their Naraka. Hell is a universal myth profoundly ingrained in the collective unconscious. A myth that we must experience since belongs to us, as a negative value to recognize in ourselves and ultimately integrate. Jung famously said: “No tree, it is said, can grow to heaven unless its roots reach down to hell.”

The fantasies of a child can strike the chords that connect us all. When art is honest is more than individual and resonates in our common structures. The universals are like the unstoppable car juggernaut. They are represented with regularity, but every time the juggernaut is festooned with different figures and flowers, because it is the instrument of the spirit of its time. The artist is like a shaman that flies ahead providing the means by which the contents of the unconscious can be unveiled, accepted, and integrated in a conscious space.