Vale Dean Cogle, Gold Coast artist

Dean Cogle

I first met Dean Cogle on a beachside balcony in Miami around 2008. We drank beers overlooking some fibro shacks of the kind that featured regularly in his artistic work. We spoke at length about the ongoing destruction of these coastal icons from the city’s built landscape and mourned the loss of part of our historical identity. Some of those houses Dean captured have since been heritage listed and preserved for their architectural and social significance. Most of them, though, stand only in the striking images that Dean captured.

Dean told me many stories about his time working as a graphic artist creating murals for the city’s live music venues in the 80s and 90s. He founded a local portrait prize and he painted nude models with the kind of sensitivity and creative flair that only he could combine. When I first volunteered to sit as a model for a life drawing class, Dean offered the most useful advice of anyone about what made a great life model and what made a great life drawing. “It’s all about the torque,” he told me, amongst other pearls of wisdom. And then he showed up at the class for no other reason than to gift me a drawing of myself being brave in front of 30-odd strangers.

Over the years I sat in conversation with Dean many, many times and I regret not capturing those discussions. Indeed, we’d planned to get together just this week so I could capture his life story but sadly that didn’t eventuate.

Dean passed away with his family by his side last night and the city’s arts community is keenly mourning their loss.

Dean has been described as a “stalwart” of the Gold Coast creative community and it’s timely that HOTA – Home of the Arts opens a retrospective exhibition of Dean’s work this weekend.

Dean Cogle made a phenomenal impression on the city’s cultural landscape, working as an artist here for some 40 years, moving to the Gold Coast in 1979 to take on airbrushing work at Hot Stuff Surfboards.

Since that time, Dean had a hand in graphic design, art directing, illustration and print production. He’s painted silos and naked bodies alike, designed advertisements, hung exhibitions, founded art prizes and produced murals as well as marketing material.

He worked with companies such as The Playroom, Mt Woodgee, Brothers Nielsen and Town and Country Surf and airbrushed surfboards for the likes of Rabbit and Kong. He was commissioned by many corporations – large and small – to create pieces of art that hang in foyers and lobbies. For years, he ran his own gallery in Koala Park called ‘Departure Lounge’.

But what Dean Cogle will be best remembered for (at least artistically), are his depictions of the city’s drive-by icons. Motor inns, businesses, motels and the once ubiquitous fibro beach shacks that dotted the Gold Coast’s shores all influenced Dean’s art in recent decades. He created paintings of buildings that many people connected deeply with – often because of their modest normality. Dean’s photo-realistic works all seem familiar because they are. We remember buildings just like that. Living in them, driving past them, renting them when we left home and finally, seeing them sometimes driven away on the back of trucks in the middle of the night.

Dean’s well-known and much-loved ‘Miami Ice’ painting captures both a lost physical asset as well as a specific time for the Gold Coast. He’s created stunning paintings of The Playroom, the Cecil Hotel and other residential homes that are both iconic and mundane in their everyday features. Those images hang in the HOTA Gallery as part of the retrospective exhibition that runs until 30 June.

Philip Follent was the city’s inaugural architect, and he knew Dean Cogle for nearly 25 years. He’s the co-chair of Gold Coast Open House and President of SWELL Sculpture Festival. If anyone understands the nostalgic value of architecture and how Dean’s art captured that, it’s Philip.

Philip told me that he met Dean after an art show in Coolangatta where he’d bought one of his paintings.

“I had to collect it from his unpretentious digs nestled in a lush setting right off a busy road,” Philip explained. “He seemed to have created a ‘Gauganishly’ idyllic oasis to nurture a creative but unpretentious lifestyle.”

Philip said Dean’s eye for the architectural essence of building form, character and colour enabled him to portray beach shacks, 50s motels and signage with a freshness they would only have enjoyed when new.

“His caricature depiction of the built environment gave a legitimacy to the Gold Coast’s quintessential holiday history,” Philip said.

“It is a skill to convey through the flatness of two-dimensional depiction and solid colour, the richness of a subject.”

Philip said that while Dean was adept at at subtle, tonal and figurative representation it was disciplined, drafted precision evident in much of his work that made him a sought after artist for architects and patrons wanting illustrations of buildings that were neither photographic nor sketch. He also praised Dean’s clever licence of colour choice.

“Bold interpretations and stretched limits of the greens and blues of foliage mark an individuality of style.”

The work resonates with a broad audience because it brings to life images of times and places with which we are familiar.

Dean’s focus on the city’s unique 50s, 60s and 70s history is an invaluable documentation and legitimisation of the modest yet unashamedly Gold Coast heritage of holiday-making… colourful and bold.

Dean will be sadly missed by his friends and peers in the arts and surf communities and we send our deepest condolences to his partner Sharyn and Dean’s children.

Dean’s impact on the city’s cultural landscape will be felt for generations.

HOTA’s retrospective exhibition, featuring the work of Dean Cogle opens this weekend, Saturday 11 May and runs through until 30 June. Dean Cogle: Beyond Nostalgia is a timely retrospective exhibition that will now double as a wonderful celebration of Dean Cogle’s life’s work.

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