Since his degree show at NCAD in 2007, Cosgrove makes paintings on workplaces, workshops usually devoted to manual technical skills: de-populated factory interiors, mechanic’s workshops, lumber-yards, dry-docks, sites of old-fashioned handwork. In these deserted places is possible to see Cosgrove’s relatively traditional upbringing - who raised in a mining community in the central heartlands of Ireland - which has instilled in him a strong sense of survival, craft, industry and the honourability of manual work.
The notions of ‘proper’ work and the oral communication of skills, from father to son, generation to generation, are fundamental to his paintings, which can be art-historically contexualised by an extensive framework of artists who have explored the social structures and the nobility – or otherwise – of labour, linking Corot, Courbet and Manet to the Euston Road School and extending to the artists of Soviet and Chinese social realism.
It has been suggested that his paintings embody a nostalgia for a disappearing world, a pre-automated age, but in truth there’s nothing sentimental or nostalgic about his approach. He is a cool painter in the sense that his fellow artist Alex Katz meant it when he remarked that he preferred Stan Getz to Jackson Pollock. Rather, Cosgrove seems drawn to workshops as spaces of industry, reflection and possibility – literally, as Frank Stella put it, working spaces. The metaphorical richness of Cosgrove’s work is not dependent on a narrative of loss and regret for a vanished or vanishing world; rather it relates to the world continually remade, day by day.
Just as the Dutch painters of the 17th century proclaimed the morals and messages of a newly Protestant society and represented subjects from the emerging mercantile classes, Cosgrove’s suite of works celebrate the presence and power of craft and labour. In fact, Cosgrove sees himself as a craftsman, or artisan wherein the art is more visible than the artist. In this way, his artworks act as a counterpoint to the glibness of so much contemporary consumerism and produce a powerful thesis for the enduring value of painting itself.
But there is something about these too-painterly-to-be-photorealistic images that allows them to transcend genre painting. First, there’s the complete lack of irony, but there are other strands and stories at play that add both intellectually and visually satisfying complexity to Cosgrove’s workshop scenes. Among all of them, the artist's own history gives the places of his paintings a personal, intimate note that the viewer's eye cannot fail to grasp.
Born Ireland, 1984, lives and works in Dublin.
Cosgrove was shortlisted for the Jerwood Contemporary Painters Prize in 2010 and his work has been shown at Frieze Art Fair, London (solo, 2012) and Art HK, and Art Basel Hong Kong, (solo, 2012 and 2016), as well as three solo exhibitions at mother’s tankstation, Dublin.
Further exhibitions include: Everything is in everything, Sirius Arts Centre, Cobh (2019); Industry, Solstice Arts Centre, Navan (2018); A Peening Sound, Butler Gallery, Kilkenny (solo, 2016); Some kind of real, The Dock, Leitrim (2016); Don’t shoot the painter, Villa Reale’s Galleria d’Arte Moderna, Milan (2015); 40/40/40, which travelled to Centro Cultural Conde Duque, Madrid, Biblioteka Uniwersytecka, Warsaw, and Palazzo Della Farnesina, Rome (2013) and Last, Douglas Hyde Gallery, Dublin.
In 2017, Cosgrove’s work was included in an expansive overview exhibition, The New Frontiers of Painting, Fondazione Stelline, Milan.