A speech by Puck in Shakespeare’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ is the inspiration for Eileen Cooper’s latest exhibition at Rook & Raven gallery in Fitzrovia. The play encapsulates many of Cooper’s themes – falling in love, the intensity of relationships, passion, are amongst her perennial subjects. The setting for Midsummer Nights Dream, its secret woods, magic forests together with the sleeping figures are rich and potent subjects for her. For Cooper the challenge in making these works is to manage the relationship between realism and poetry through painterly lyrical expressionism.
The exhibition also presents a new body of work including drawing and painting, which Cooper began in France in the summer of 2015. Also being exhibited are a new group of works in bronze which compliment the works on paper. This exhibition Cooper believes is a ‘new beginning’ yet still touches on many of the themes that have frequently resonated within her work.
As a trained painter Cooper insists, that the new bronze sculptures owe much to drawing and collage. Sometimes described as a magic realist, Eileen Cooper brings an unapologetically female perspective to her subject-matter. Her concerns are as relevant and timeless as those of the human spirit itself, encompassing sexuality, motherhood, life and death. Her richly diverse images, simultaneously bold and tender, reveal a range of feeling that is both deeply engrossing and readily accessible, yet still very much part of contemporary art practice. The small works on board, were a produced as a reaction to her 2015 retrospective ‘Hide and Seek’ at the Royal Academy of Arts. “I kept thinking about ways to link drawn marks /painted areas and differing materials, so I experimented, working on board and mixing drawing and painting…I think these works have a collaged quality. “ The works were produced flat on a table, working from different directions, so the compositions were spontaneous. Cooper often tries to subvert her practice, usually through process and materials. The imagery is instinctive and unselfconscious, with themes of intimacy, love, nurture, and creativity. As she has commented, these works signify new beginnings, but there is also an awareness of growing older and the importance of time. ‘In the Moment’, Cooper explains “came about when a friend arrived with a present of tiny rose for me, which I then painted very large, I suppose it’s about tending/nurture…the white roses followed, I wanted them to be monumental, and fitted the figures in around them. I think the flowers also symbolise creativity… which always needs care. I also enjoy the connection with the Grimm Fairy tale, Snow White and Rose Red, of which there are several versions.”
Eileen Cooper (b 1953) studied at Goldsmiths College from 1971-1974 and went on to study Painting at the Royal College of Art under Peter de Francia, graduating in 1977. During the 1980s she became a major figure, well known and regarded for her strong and passionate figuration. Cooper has always taught part time in numerous institutions including St Martins, Royal College of Art and the Royal Academy Schools. She became a Royal Academician in 2000 and in 2010 was elected Keeper of the Royal Academy, the first woman in this role since the Academy began in 1768.
Image: Eileen Cooper RA ‘Delta Dawn’ © 2015