critique 

by Graham Boyd

Julie Cooper's work is imbued with a sense of mystery. It is elusive, persistently evoking a tantalising twilight which plays upon the oppositions of what can be seen and what is withheld.

The veiled structures of Turner's masterpiece 'Norham Castle' and the tonalities of Whistler's Nocturnes, demonstrate the counterpoint running between these factors. One can also clearly recognise how much she has profited from scrutiny of those layered depths in the dark Rothkos. These are significant influences she has succeeded in synthesizing into her own unique painterly language.

Over the years since graduating from the University of Hertfordshire, her painting has explored the boundaries between abstraction and the romantic landscape tradition. Her palette is predominately tonal and applied in many layers through which she develops a deeply expressive and enigmatic sense of space.

Quite recently, however, in a brave switch, she has turned away from the spatial concerns of landscape to full on images of horses. Having been given access to a neighbour's stables, she has clearly experienced a revelatory stimulus from close up encounters with the sheer power of the horse's anatomy. Though here again, as with landscape, there is a formidable tradition as to how horses have been portrayed (Leonardo,Rubens, Gericault, Stubbs etc.). So to turn from her long already established subject-matter to a totally new venture has meant leaving that comfort zone and stepping out into unknown territory and the necessity of reinventing her art.

In order to respond to the sheer size and proximity of the new subjects the scale of her format had to dramatically increase to being carried out on 40" x 50" sheets of Fabriano paper with the application of graphite, pastels, charcoal and oil paint. Rather than paintings in the pure sense, they take the form of giant drawings as she had to grapple with the task of getting control of the structures and movements discovered in the masses and formations of flanks, necks, heads and shoulder joints et al. It is revealing to see how reminiscently these new discoveries can be read as landscape metaphors.

In the earliest examples the horse images are white and come out of the darkness in stark contrast, in a way reversing the obfuscation of the landscapes where objects are subsumed. More recently the figure/ground relationship has become more diverse. The ground now interacts with the figure in a way that is becoming more dynamic in incorporating interior structures for their abstract properties. Latterly her lurcher has been enlisted as a model, reclining in one canvas almost invisible, dark on a soft darkness. Unexpectedly an abstract device of four or five vertical grey/blue hard edged bands are imposed rising to the image. The contrast is complete and uncompromising but creates a drama of opposites making perfect pictorial sense in the final outcome.

This is an artist of integrity and inner strength,whose creativity seems to come from the depths of her sensibility. One feels no doubt that there is much more excitingly original work to come.

May 2012

© julie cooper 2018