Sexuality, creativity, fertility, and relationships are all enduring themes in Eileen Cooper's works. The British artist's latest series of paintings, however, take a darker turn by considering desire and isolation, mortality and conflict.
On show at Huxley-Parlour Gallery from 22 June, the 11 new works on canvas in Somewhere or Other were painted over the last two years between London and Suffolk and continue her approach of brutal self-reflection. With her usual bold use of colour and sweeping stark lines, the works are influenced by the landscape, folklore and the Suffolk coast and countryside, drawing particularly on the area's reputation as an archaeological treasure ground. The paintings suggest ancient habitats, vanished communities, the romance and threat of the North Sea, and the timeless rituals of civilisations both distant and present.
Look closely at each unfolding painted story, and you'll get a sense of escapism and expectation – perhaps something we can all relate to as we navigate the "new normal". The artist's figures are often depicted as connected with the earth, often viewing the landscape from unusual perspectives: from within trees or from walking level. This fresh series continues that theme with figures lying on the ground: supine or prone – their languid postures suggest resting, sleeping, and dreaming. Bodies of water such as ponds or lakes and rippled, caressing trees are present throughout, adding an enchanting feel. "Stories are never far away," Cooper remarks. "Mythology, fairytales, bible stories, comics, and early special effects movies are all inspirations."
The title of this body of work comes from Christina Rossetti's poem, Somewhere or Other, and is fitting for a series which delights in curious figures, symbolism, and abstract ideas. You might also spot a subtext of cross-generational relationships, ageing, and inevitably mortality as Cooper reflects on her creative journey, her multiple roles as painter, mother, and draughtsman, and confronts new ambitions at this stage in her career. It's something we've come to expect in Cooper's work, this idea of exchange and conflict between a woman's life and her artistic journey.
Originally from the Peak District, Cooper has lived in London since moving to study at Goldsmiths in 1971 and then at the Royal College of Art in 1974. Cooper went on to teach at many schools, including Central St Martin's, the Royal College of Art, City & Guilds, and the Royal Academy of Arts. Her exhibition history is extensive across national and international institutions, and her works are held in several prolific collections such as the Arts Council Collection and the British Museum. This September, a major survey of Cooper's work will take place at Leicester Museum & Art Gallery.
Somewhere or Other by Eileen Cooper will run from 22 June until 16 July 2022 at Huxley-Parlous Gallery in London. Discover more about the artist at www.eileencooper.co.uk.