José Cori is a rising star in the Santiago, Chile art scene, known for his magical take on the mundane through colourful sketches. Honing in on influences such as Hockney and Hopper, Cori is guided by his love of poetry and obsession with the beauty that abounds in everyday life. His upcoming exhibition with Casa AmaCord at Cromwell Place, entitled The Wild Iris, will be Cori’s London debut. Opening today and running until June 4.
The works, which build on the poetry of Louise Gluck, are an essential introduction to his style which is entirely produced through the use of coloured pencils. What could come across as infantile is instead masterful, and evokes both an innate sentimentality and a sense of tradition. Cori’s style and artworks could not be more far from description as canned, as fresh as they are at times unsettling, and in other breaths funny or cutting, Cori is a witty artist.

Working almost as an illustrator or translator, moving between inspiration found within the pages of prose, and placing those interpretations on canvas, Cori allows himself to wander in his own mind garden. It is simply a pleasure to come along for the ride, taking in scenes that needle between dreamlike and spooky, and warmly familiar. Cori is a prophet of the daily, his style only immediately appearing simple, he adds depth through his playfulness and attention to accuracy. If one’s world is their muse,  the duplicity of human perception is all the better distilled. In finding beauty where others may not and embracing it in his work, Cori manages to reveal something singular about human existence.
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Hi there José, how are you doing? Thanks so much for talking with me, what are your plans for the day?
I’m very well thank you and you’re welcome. The truth is I’m always working. I’m lucky enough to have my studio where I also live, so I’m practically always there. It’s winter now here in Chile so I have less light though. I stop working earlier.
If you could describe your artistic style in three words, what would you say?
Back To Basics.
How would you describe the art scene in Santiago, what cultural references do you look to for inspiration?
The art scene in Santiago is pretty solid. There are many talented artists working on very different types of work. I know for a fact that international galleries are looking at what people are doing here. As for references, I’m interested in pretty much everything but mostly painting. Poetry is a big deal for me too. I would say that what most inspires me is nature, poetry and painting. I don’t really care where the artist is from, just if the work is good and I feel excited by it.
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What drew you to the poems of The Wild Iris, and when did you realise you wished to use them as a touchstone in your own work?
I read the book last year. I felt I had a debt to Louise Gluck because I hadn’t read her. When I read the first verse (At the end of my suffering/there was a door) I was immediately thrilled, and the book in its entirety is fluent in intensity and beauty. I fell in love with it because it also touched the scenario of the garden and the gardener, and I think that it plays out like a kind of laboratory of feeling, of speculation and vision. I feel it’s in the same tune of what Chesterton wrote on gardens which I love: “One of the deepest and strangest of all human moods is the mood which will suddenly strike us perhaps in a garden at night, or deep in sloping meadows, the feeling that every flower and leaf has just uttered something stupendously direct and important, and that we have by a prodigy of imbecility not heard or understood it. There is a certain poetic value, and that a genuine one, in this sense of having missed the full meaning of things. There is beauty, not only in wisdom, but in this dazed and dramatic ignorance.”
You drew this collection using solely coloured pencils, in order to gain colour purity, can you explain this method a bit more?
Yes. The coloured pencils are very dear to me precisely because they give out that purity of colour, but also because they permit so much accuracy. The pencil-point presence in all the work gives it a special resolution, and I work to this end. I use the pencils pressed to the paper as to get the most saturation of every pigment, and that also gives it a special quality at the end, I think. There is also an immediacy to the material which I like, maybe because I’m a bit anxious, but I love not having to wait for it to dry or to prepare each colour.
Have you always had a creative itch, were you an artist from a young age?
I would say that nothing out of the ordinary. I’ve always liked to draw, but like many it wasn’t anything serious until very late. What I always have been is very restless, and like many artists I suppose, I hated maths, authoritarian discipline, anything really that I felt was forced upon my nature. I always say that I studied art primarily because I didn’t want anybody telling me what to do anymore, what to think or what to learn. I wanted to find those things out for myself. Through the years that became a creative discipline, not because the art school had much to do with it but because after much digging I found something that I truly liked doing and served to channel the things that moved me.
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There’s a sense of whimsy to your drawn scenes, are they pictures in your mind, live settings, dreams? Where do they materialise from?
Yes. I strive towards that sense in my work. I think they come from reading so much, especially poetry, and looking at images which are in the same or similar aesthetic. I’ve always felt attracted to other artists that work in this way. To work towards an image that goes beyond itself somehow. I often feel that reality is extraordinary, I’m very much in awe of what surrounds us, of what we can perceive or think or do, so the scenes I make align with that: something odd or miraculous, but that can also be just staring out of a window.
Who or what do you look to for inspiration, do you listen to music while you work? What does your studio look like?
I don’t really listen to much music while I work. I often feel that it modifies so much how I feel that I can’t concentrate. But if I feel I need a little uplifting I’ll work to rap music. My studio is just a room in my house, but I’ve adapted the lighting and everything. I don’t need a huge space because my work up until now goes from medium to small sizes. The studio isn’t as organised as I would like but the essentials are there. The walls are full of paint from failures in painting.
What are some future plans for the months ahead?
First of all, I’m looking forward to the opening of The Wild Iris in London. I couldn’t travel to be there but it´s still exciting. In June and July, I have two collective [group] shows here in Santiago, in October the SWAB fair in Barcelona, and I think another solo in November in my local gallery. So, a lot of work ahead!
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