Belgrave Gallery 2014
Like the comic silence that treads a thrilling fine line; the pregnant pause in a bar of music; the short line of poetry that gathers emotion in refrain, Jessica Cooper’s apparent simplicity on canvas is her most courageous and impactful tool.
The temptation might be to call it minimalism, with its implication of stripping away – or simplicity, with its suggestion of naiveté – but more accurately this is mindfulness of art: a honing of awareness; an attentiveness of mind; and an openness to meaning, wherever it might be found.
To watch Cooper at work is to observe a tireless quest for this all-important meaning. As she prepares for a painting in her ever-present sketchbook, she explores and distils the subject until finding what she describes as its ‘core’: the part or parts in which she finds value, essence, emotion, substance or significance, impact or import. Once found, all else falls beyond the borders of the canvas, the noise of life is turned to fade, and she focuses with a rare clarity: on a shade of green, a line, a curve, a leaf, a corner, a tree, a house.
While Cooper has long been an artist who breathes emotion into the still life, never perhaps has a collection of her paintings been more emotionally resonant than this homecoming show in her native West Penwith, composed as it is of objects and landscapes that have shaped, and continue to shape, her life. Whether it’s a cup made by her grandmother, used by four generations; an acutely reminiscent view from the coastal road from St Just to St Ives; or a commonplace modern kitchen chair, Cooper seems to elevate the domestic and the personal to greater significance.
While the effect might be one of effortless clarity, the filtering out of extraneous detail is notoriously demanding in any art form. It requires well-honed skill, but still more, it demands conviction and courage. Denied the props of supporting structures, and freed from the restraints of dogged detail, Cooper’s paintings place themselves in a bold position of vulnerability. A wedge of lemon on the kitchen surface. A house on a hill. An oval of soap next to the bath. How can she know we will care? Artistically, Cooper leaves herself as precarious and protruding as a tree on the moors of West Penwith.
Yet this vulnerability, for me, is the very thing that imbues this body of works with strength and meaning. It is the thing that makes a painting of a humble bowl of pears strong and important. In short, we care because she cares. We believe in it because she does. It is a confidence that is quite contagious.