Alright, first things first. That line! The art of JAW Cooper has this sleek, elegant, sinewy line. It's effortless and seductive as hell. It's the kind of line that few people can pull off. Mucha mastered it, James Jean comes pretty close, but Jessica Cooper inhabits that line completely.
Cooper studied at Otis (under such luminaries as Nathan Ota and Bob Dob), but the bulk of her skills are self taught. The daughter of two biologists, Jessica grew up travelling the world, all the while filling countless sketchbooks to amuse herself on the fly.
Her paintings have the same delicate grace as a Hiroshige woodblock, but seem to dwell in the forests of myth, like half-remembered dreams.
If you haven't frequented her Blog, you're missing out. It is the most generous, fan-friendly, little cyber-window into the working process that I've seen any artist offer. She's even been known to give work away when something fails to meet her standards!
Cooper is a very busy girl. Currently included in the MondoPOP group show "Taetrum et Dulce" in Rome (alongside Isabel Samaras and others), she is also feverishly preparing 8-12 new pieces for the mini-solo show "ERODE" at the WWA Gallery in February. So, I'm very grateful that she took time out to chat with me a bit.
1) We must talk about music! I discovered we have something in common. We both make specific play lists to listen to for different projects. Your work virtually oozes musical influence, but I can never get a direct line on the source material. Sometimes I think your work echoes dreampop, or opera, or Kate Bush. Can you share a bit of a recent play list and how it related to a certain piece?
Cooper: "Oh yes! Music has a great influence over my work. I personally love old school hip hop and alternative music (a strange mix, I know) but my work is most influenced by the latter. I am drawn to songs that are haunting, creepy, beautiful, unearthly, perhaps a bit sad, and that tell a story. Someone recently described my work as being illustrations of a mythology from a time and place that has never existed. This really resonated with me and I think the music I listen to while making art helps me tune in to those feelings of nostalgia and magic. My play list for my last series "Tarnished" included:
Moonlight Sonata by Ludwig van Beethoven
Pan's Labyrinth Lullaby by Javier Navarrete
Jardin d'hiver by Benjamin Biolay
End Of May by Keren Ann
Raphaël by Carla Bruni
Lovely Bloodflow by Baths
Won't Want For Love (Margaret in The Taiga) by The Decemberists
The White Whale by Beirut
Sovay by Andrew Bird
Snow Owl by The Mountain Goats
Little Yellow Spider by Devendra Banhart
2) Your pencil sketches are devastatingly beautiful. What are your preferred pencils (and paper)?
Cooper: "Oh, well thank you. My preferred pencils are prisma col-erase in carmine red, true blue, and Tuscan red, as well as regular graphite pencils in HB-4B. My favorite paper is heavyweight Stonehenge, bought in large individual sheets not the kind bound in a pad. I have tried a variety of papers and have found this smooth, heavyweight, printmaking paper to be by far the best for my particular process. It is creamy and smooth but with enough tooth to make both detail work and tone-building a breeze. Additionally it is just transparent enough to allow me to transfer my drawings via light box, while sturdy enough not to warp or bubble when I then mount it to museum board using matte medium, so I can paint on it without compromising it's structural integrity. Stonehenge comes in a variety of colors, but I usually find that it is best to buy white and then tone it myself, after transferring the drawing and mounting it to board, for greater control over the color and tone."3) In addition to the obvious natural elements in your work, there's always a strong feminine presence. Even when you render women in peril, they come across as strong, defiant, and conquering. How much of yourself is in these women, and have you struggled with any gender bias in the art world?
Cooper: "Art made by girls who draw girls is often perceived as superficial and the gender of the creator can soften the impact of the sexual aspects of the work. This can be a blessing to female artists who find beauty in the feminine form but do not want their work to be perceived as hyper-sexual or "pervy." In my case it is a curse as I prefer my "perv" quotient to be as high as possible. Not to say that the girls that I draw are purely sexual beings, they can be strong, defiant, and conquering, as well as vulnerable. I just do not think that these things have to be mutually exclusive and I certainly do not want their strong sexuality to be downplayed. For this very reason, I chose to make art under the name J.A.W. Cooper (an abbreviation of my full name) to disguise my gender."
4) You've lived all over the world. Where do you feel most at home (and why)?
Cooper: "Of all the places that I have lived, the fondest memories that I have are of Sweden. However, I really can feel at home anywhere as long as I have a little bit of privacy and can set up my space to my liking. Growing up on the move was an amazing experience and certainly instrumental in shaping my attitudes toward other cultures and ways of living, not to mention my insatiable curiosity, enthusiasm for learning, and sense of adventure."
5) Lastly, what is the most valuable thing you've learned as a working artist, that can't be taught in art school?
Cooper: " It took me years to learn what my time is worth and to have the courage and confidence to expect to be compensated adequately for my work. Another tool that comes with experience is the ability to say "no." As creative individuals it is easy to be caught up in the enthusiasm of a potential client's vision, and our desire to please often pushes us to settle for less than we are worth, work for people who are unreliable (or worse, friends and family), or take on jobs that will ultimately be more of a time-suck than an opportunity for growth and promotion. I still struggle with this on a daily basis, and I have to say that I think that the best preventative measure that you can take to avoid these traps is to have a reliable job (in the art/creative field, not at Starbucks) so that you never say "yes" out of desperation to pay bills or because of boredom. Stay busy and productive and you will naturally have to be more discerning in the projects and commitments that you make."
Calendar of events for JAW Cooper:
Taetrum et Dulce at MondoPOP (Rome) 12/10/2011 - 1/21/2012
Blue Canvas Magazine Issue 11 Launch Event (L.A.) 1/12/2012
G1998 x Adult Swim at Gallery 1998 (L.A.) 1/13/2012
Erode at WWA Gallery (L.A.) 2/17/2012
All photos courtesy (and copyright) of JAW Cooper.