Paper. Scissors. Stone. Feather-charcoal. Surely they aren’t compatible? In the hands of Jonathan Delafield Cook a stick of carbonised willow deftly conjures the very weight and texture of the lightest of feathers. The Dürer of the lump of coal, via his chosen medium you look into the soul of animate beings and feel a soul in the inanimate. From the sensuous hidden depths in a waxy magnolia flower to the poundage and vulnerability of an armoured rhinoceros, the tenacious power of a barnacle or the water-borne magnificence of a whale, all are accorded their intrinsic spirit with no sense of hierarchy.
There is a self-avowed pre-enlightenment spirit to this natural philosopher who delivers fundamental truths about nature through the prism of soft subtle texture and tone. From the moment of Jonathan’s first charcoal drawing of a fishmonger’s box of minnows his gaze on the world shifted into a tonal exploration of the natural world. Nature has been his fixed star. Bird, beast, fish and flower are the circling planets he draws in consecutive phases. 2020 was destined as a year to explore botanical themes and the lockdown pandemic set him momentarily into retrograde motion. Unable to roam far afield, his inquisitive eyes had to settle on the fields around him. Just as unease set in, his wife the illustrator Laura Stoddart, yielded a rich seam of inspiration and material from their garden.
So here we have poppy, dahlia, rose. Utterly lifelike. Utterly other. A young bull from the nearby village of Stogumber and a local Border Leicester sheep. Utterly lifelike, utterly other. You could put Jonathan Delafield Cook on a desert island with a box of matches and some very fine grade Fabriano paper, not too rough, not too smooth and magic would happen.
Jonathan’s observational skills were honed as a child of nature, the son of artists; summers were spent in Deià, Mallorca where he was gifted a Durrellian freedom to explore coves and caves while the poets and painters explored their own inner child in a haze of smoky happenings. Binoculars, birding and barnacles were Jonathan’s favourite things and then as now he would get lost in the detail of fissures and fractures. There is something of the cove and cave in all his work, a geological pattern he simulates in the haunch of a bull or the rock face complexity of a crinkle-petalled oriental poppy. He likes to capture plants at the moment they are poised between sumptuous strength and the onset of decay, when the cliffs and ravines he sees in the architectural structure of their veins and cells starts to crumble.
(Tania Compton, April 2021)