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Lowbrow Study: Coop Inter-Re-View
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Manic Rekallism   |  @   |  
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Iconic © Coop. All Rights ReservedTo the British, Coop is underground. The artist known as ‘Coop,’ Chris Cooper, has created many an artwork you wish you had done first. Famed for his portrayal of voluptuous devilish women reminiscent of the classic pin-ups of the 1950s and ’60s Raquel Welch, Elizabeth Taylor, Sophia Loren, and the dirty-work of Russ Meyer, Coop has managed to bring his artwork into the fore. His cigar-smoking Devil Head has become a trademark of sorts, ensuring Coop’s place in history.

This devil imagery has lead to many, many questions asked to the fondness and use of such, which I will try to circumvent. Coop’s imagery is long established and I will not attempt to ask what has come before, and will only bore Coop himself but to the uninitiated, it is something that you must look out for. Coop has drawn many voluptuous devil women, but I shall leave that to you to find out more…

Coop Devil Coop Devil

The glamorous pinups of the ’50s and ’60s were movie stars with real talent, indeed they were admired for their looks. But it laid the benchmark for future generations to come (albeit corrupted and misguided along the way — I for one am not a fan of waif-hat stand coat-hanger catwalk ‘supermodels’).

However Coop’s work must be considered the highest form of lowbrow art and that is a compliment. His rendition of the curvaceous female form (devil-like or not) is suggestive of the work of Bill Ward and Russ Meyer. Find more about Bill Ward here.

Coop Girl Bill Ward's Telephone Girl Russ Meyer's SuperVIXENS
Coop Girl Bill Ward’s Telephone Girl Russ Meyer’s SuperVIXENS

Admittedly all three types of product from these artists are a celebration of the female form and often the female is seen as the heroine or vixen and has strength of character and is not simply an object to be adored, she is empowering and knows that she is beautiful, but not in an overconfident manner, she is at ease with her own sexuality and this comes across in the work, she is not one to feel sorry for, she is an equal to man. Meyer’s depictions of women are often described as ‘übermenschen’ meaning superwomen or supervixens using sex (and sensuality) as a weapon. With this in mind, the work will always gratify the baser male fantasies, and though many may be put off by the somewhat gratuitous and provocative sexual nature but I consider it ART. Look at Robert Crumb, Michelangelo, and Aubrey Beardsley even the Kama Sutra, all forms of highly regarded genius works of art.

Coop made it contemporary.

You cannot deny what is real. The comparison between the three mentioned is mostly due to the similarities in the ‘minor’ exaggeration of a certain body part. Yes, not surprisingly the breasts are large. Some might say that the artwork does not represent women accurately (as you’ve probably gathered by now), but that does not stop the legions of male and female fans showing their appreciation! Reading somewhere, I found that Coop was surprised to find a large female fan base following appearing at signings. (Read more here.) Regardless, the innocent expressions on the ladies make it rather endearing. And all this with that glint in the eye and a wry smile.

If you are lucky to find yourself a woman of Meyer-istic Coop-ified proportions (like I’m proud to say I did) then revel in this artwork and make your woman proud that out there are fans and art dedicated to the shapely woman without it being overly voyeuristic. These women are the type of woman that exists outside the perceived mass media norm (in Britain) which happily displays through the tabloids and weekly fad-rags (of National Enquirer quality) the new low-fat-low-calorie-no-food diet diet, the latest size MINUS ZERO look, and the how-to-look-good-in-bulimia fashion of the week.

Even though this article has fawned over and over exalting the virtues of the art forms, but you must see for yourself. Expand your mind, the underground is becoming overground, the quirks and obsessions are seemingly becoming part and parcel of everyday life, tattoos are non-taboo, sex is not frowned upon, and dirty laundry is aired on reality TV nationally and yet, the air of mystery remains because of the stuffy-nosed, narrow-minded people who chose to complain and bury all that is unusual. And so the underground remains underground, and to be honest, Geeks will always like the things that are different.

In Britain, Coop’s work was harder to come by [the Internet certainly helped solve that] and it took me a while to come full circle in firstly seeing the Devil head, and then taking at least another five years before finding it again and reigniting the passion for his work. The simplistic clean cut line work and figurative style has lead many towards getting his work tattooed [something I’ve considered for a long while].

What surprised me, was when looking back over his catalogue of work, it was the Rock Flyer poster work that is where it pretty much started. His own website is a good place to start as well as PosterPop to find original pieces of his work, such as one of the first posters he did for bands such as Bad Religion and Nirvana.

Coop's Bad Religion Concert Poster (1993) Coop's Nirvana Concert Poster (1994)
Coop’s Bad Religion Concert Poster (1993) Coop’s Nirvana Concert Poster (1994)

The original posters of Coop remind me of artists today found in galleries such as the Museum of Modern Art. These artists I am talking about are personal favourites of mine, and even though the MoMA Gallery is predominantly Fine Art, these artists are to some extent Graphic Artists. I am talking about Roy Lichtenstein, James Rosenquist and Bridget Riley, and I am pleased to equate Coop with such luminaries.

Roy Lichtenstein's Drowning Girl (1963) James Rosenquist' President Elect (1960, 61-64) Bridget Riley's Movement in Squares (1961)
Roy Lichtenstein’s Drowning Girl (1963) James Rosenquist’ President Elect (1960, 61-64) Bridget Riley’s Movement in Squares (1961)

It may seem strange to add Bridget Riley, as the majority of her Optical Illusion art was Black and White and consisted typically of squares or circles in varying degrees of mind warping but all these artists I’ve covered so far have something in common.

Simplicity.

As much as I do not want to use that word, I am implying that minimalism to me has always worked best in art to convey the artist’s intentions. Many a time I have found that art critics will embellish and inflate their views on what they perceive to see in a given painting. Bullshit. Straightforwardness in art is superior and always will be (although that does not extend to Tracey Emin or Damien Hirst in my book) because too much detail detracts from what is on the page right in front of you, which is always the reason for critics creating these random abstract notions when describing a piece. Magritte did it best, and so does Coop.

One aspect that seems now almost synonymous with Coop is Hot-Rods. Ultimately Hot-Rods are not a real part of the British culture, hell, we really only have car modification here still in its infancy as a byproduct of Americanization of Britain. The Kustom Car Kulture also goes hand in hand with the Chopper scene, but Coop’s importance extends to the design and creation of new artworks based on Hot-Rods as well as an art exhibition entitled ‘Parts With Appeal’ in 2004. Hot-Rods in fact are virtually non-existent in the UK, which is a damn shame considering the elegance and appearance of the cars I’ve seen. So I intend to find out more from Coop himself.

Coop also recognized himself as a brand with the exhibition in 2007 called ‘Brand Recognition’ including famous iconic logos incorporated into the work. See his fine art at his website.

Books available (many more than on show! Coopstuff.com!)

The Devil’s Advocate The Mark of the Beast: Tattoo Flash
The Devil’s Advocate The Mark of the Beast: Tattoo Flash

This also extends further with Casino Chips, condoms, jewelry, apparel, hot wheels cars, and now with new Giclee prints and t-shirt designs for Boing Boing, which is on sale now and are rapidly selling out!

The Devil’s Advocate
Coop’s tee-shirt design for Boing Boing

And we haven’t even got to the question and answer session yet…

The artist, a diner: Coop © Photo by RuthAnd so, I sent these questions to Coop himself, courtesy of his gracious wife Ruth, who has helped me with all the necessary permissions (and questions to avoid). Cheers! Read on….

Geeks of Doom: Firstly, I would like to ask a few art-based questions: Do you consider yourself a graphic artist or a fine artist and what are your thoughts on that?

Chris Cooper: I’m a fine artist who sometimes does commercial illustration to pay the bills. I used to do a lot of it, now I don’t have to do quite so much.

GoD: Have you heard of the Post Neo Explosionists [Justin Hampton, Emek & Jermaine Rogers] and what do you think of their method of producing almost solely collectors’ items work?

CC: I know their work, but I don’t know anything about what you asked about. I have had a lot of experience dealing with collectors, and while I certainly depend on them for my living, I’m not sure about the long-term wisdom of catering to that market, because collectors as a species can be very fickle and demanding.

I’ve done some very limited-edition prints, and certainly all my paintings and drawings are one-of-a-kind, but I try to also offer posters and other items that are always available and priced reasonably. I’m still suspicious of the concept of artificial scarcity, as it always seems a little too “Beanie Babies” to me, if you get my meaning.

GoD: Also, I would like to gauge your opinion on the Guerilla Graffiti Artist ‘Bansky’, do you think he brings controversial art to the general public or is just in the business of defacing public property?

CC: I generally dig that sort of stuff, as long as it is well-done and interesting visually and conceptually. Having said that, if I go out in the morning to go to work, and see a graffiti tag on my garage door, I’m probably not gonna dig that too much.

I think the most interesting thing about Banksy is not his artwork, but the brilliant way he has marketed himself and his art, becoming a huge name in the fine art world while mostly bypassing the gallery/museum structure.

GoD: With the Giclee method you have used recently, have you found your production methods have sped things up?

CC: Not really. Giclee prints have some advantages over silkscreen prints, but the creation of the images takes about the same amount of time, really.

GoD: Are there any negative aspects of the digital revolution?

CC: Lots. I feel like there is a whole generation of artists and illustrators that are hot shit with a Wacom tablet and a monitor, who are unable to create anything with pen & paper, or brush & canvas. Paintings and drawings are very durable, done properly, they last for centuries. With digitally-created art, you are one EMP away from disappearing into the ether.

I use a computer for many parts of my creative process, but everything I do digitally is informed by years of experience gained with real-world materials and technique. I started working in a print shop when I was a teenager, and learned how to do everything in the pre-press and printing process for both offset and letterpress printing, before working for several years with a silkscreen press, cutting color separations by hand, burning screens, you name it. (You shouldn’t even be allowed to do a silkscreen print until you have learned every part of the process first-hand, from preparing line art and color separations, to actually pulling a squeegee.) Because of that experience, I know what you can and can’t do in each medium, and know how to play to the strengths of each. Also, when it comes time to work with a printer, I speak their language, and can get better results.

On the other hand, the Internet has so completely changed the way artists do business; it’s hard to even fully comprehend.

GoD: What would you consider to be the high point of your career to date?

CC: I’m still waiting for that one, I guess.

GoD: What advice could you give to artists who wish to follow in your footsteps?

CC: Like I said before, learn to do as much as possible yourself. You should constantly be trying to learn new skills, and working in new mediums. Specialization is for insects.

GoD: Now for something different, in order to delve into the person behind the imagery: the Kustom Kulture barely exists here in the UK, so how would you ‘sell’ Hot Rods to the UK masses, and why?

CC: I don’t know. The UK just doesn’t have the same love affair with the automobile as we do here in the USA.

GoD: You obviously enjoy photography, is this an area you wish to do more in?

CC: Yeah, it’s something that I did as a teenager, then didn’t mess with again until recently. It started as a way to shoot photo reference for my fine art, but it quickly turned into another way to express myself. The thing that appeals to me about photography is that I have less control over the work. It has more to do with capturing a moment than spending hours crafting an image. It has become a good balance to my painting.

GoD: As well as the photography, you have a large collection of Japanese toys, so for the Geek readers of Geeks of Doom, will you divulge your passion and your interest in it?

CC: I was pretty seriously collecting vintage Japanese vinyl and diecast toys for about ten years, until I reached a point of saturation. I don’t buy much of it anymore. I’m collecting vintage speed equipment and hand tools now.

GoD: Finally, a random question: What would be defined as your perfect day?

CC: Any day that I can spend in my studio working without the phone ringing once is a pretty good day.

Thank you for your time Coop and I look forward to more great work from your studio and thanks to Ruth for putting up with my incessant pestering!

Coop’s official website
Coop on MySpace

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