Main Gallery

Eileen Cooper

Showing Off

8 September - 8 October, 2011

Eileen Cooper installation imageEileen Cooper installation imageEileen Cooper installation imageEileen Cooper installation imageEileen Cooper, Showing OffEileen Cooper, The Big PaintingEileen Cooper, Tracing the ShadowEileen Cooper, Narrative

> exhibition catalogue (pdf)

Eileen Cooper becomes the first woman to be appointed an Officer of the Royal Academy since its inception in 1768, and takes up her post as Keeper this October.

Art First's solo exhibition of her new work immediately precedes this historic event.

Art First is very pleased to announce Showing Off, an exhibition of new paintings and works on paper by Eileen Cooper. The show opens only weeks before Cooper takes up the post as Keeper of the Royal Academy, becoming the first woman Officer to be elected since it was founded by Sir Joshua Reynolds in 1768. This accolade seems entirely appropriate for a courageous painter and print maker who has addressed gender issues and engaged in the feminist debate since beginning her professional career in the early 1980's.

For her latest body of work, in a bold step towards more minimalist settings for her protagonists, Cooper strips away the casual clutter of her previous narrative environments to present us with flat rectangles of opaque colour: bold pop grounds of cadmium red, acid yellow and ultramarine blue are laid down straight from the tube and scrubbed onto the canvas without reworking. These monochrome grounds are the ideal complement for the fresh sense of exhibitionism and dynamic confidence being displayed by the figures that inhabit them. Cooper's ongoing narrative themes - the artist, the dancer, the actor, the healer - evolve and flourish on these coloured stages. She concentrates on the activities of the single individual suspended in a moment of intense creativity. Be it dancing or acting, this pivotal moment is conceptually aligned with the poise of the painter at the easel, brush in hand, about to engage.

Characters like the woman in the key work, Showing Off, who twirls in her golden yellow dress, typify those who appear in the paintings as self-absorbed, immersed in their creativity and universally recognizable. The protagonists are predominantly women who take centre stage with confidence and evident joie de vivre. Male figures do appear, for the first time alone, contemplative or as a quiet companion. In Tracing the Line, a gentleman stands, back to the wall, his body traced in blue outline by a focused female companion who leans away from her own imprint already drawn on the wall behind her. Cooper conjures a witty visual pun on the illusionistic nature of painting here, echoed in the work, Artist, where a nimble painter works on an image taken straight from Cooper's back catalogue; a painting within a painting.

The exuberance and overall energy in these works underlines the assertiveness of an artist reveling in her ability to swiftly pin down an image with little reworking. Cooper has shed her hesitations along with the colourful attributes with which she used to decorate her figures. She has found a strong, individual, iconic language in which to transmit her distinctively female experience. We are reminded too that as a colourist, Cooper retains her expressionist roots and is never shy of the emotional charge which pure colour can import to a work. If the self-proclaiming element is an overt aspect of these 'studio' paintings, they also present us with surprises – a side of Cooper's art that never fails to enthral.

The newly elected Keeper brings a fusion to her new role as artist, teacher, decision maker and instinctive diplomat. We celebrate our own privileged engagement with her work over the twenty five year period that we have had the privilege of representing her.

A catalogue accompanies the exhibition, with an essay by the writer/artist Kate McCrickard and text from Jeanette Winterson.