An interview with Michael P Cooper
Michael Cooper has an eye-catching way with colour and composition. He deploys it to good effect in his art, which for the most part is a critique of capitalist society. He cites as influences the French philosopher and social critic Jean Baudrillard, the Belgain surrealist painter Paul Delvaux and the German painter and printmaker Otto Dix.
I painted The Art of Consumption a long time ago. It’s about everything in life as fodder for consumer society. It’s like we’re on a conveyor belt from birth until death, and everything in between, even sex, is treated as if it’s just there to be eaten up.
In a capitalist society everything is taken to excess. That’s the way you sell things: excess is an industry that makes money.
In one of my paintings a gigantic golden citadel towers over a wasteland, representing the power of corporations and their impact on society. I guess I am trying to produce work which is relevant to my own experience and the experience of ordinary people. I’m thinking of Otto Dix painting about the seedy side of life in 1930s Germany. I am also quite interested in exploring metaphysical ideas through painting.
In The Bad Dream there’s a man in a coffin, but this painting isn’t about death, it’s about the man dreaming of being alive. He’s going into a third reality by watching someone on TV, but at the same time he’s being hypnotized by the person on television. I like what the French philosopher Baudrillard has to say; that with the advent of television, the map no longer reflects the territory, it creates the territory.
For a lot of periods in my life I’ve been on the dole. That’s what my painting Signing On is about. This is what it feels like to be in the job centre office. Someone’s legs are sticking out of the green dumpster. When you’re on the dole it feels like death, like you’re disappearing, being sucked away into nothing.
I think you should be honest with what you’re painting. But I never know if what I’m doing is simply ludicrous.
In The Nightmare Nightclub I’ve exaggerated things a bit, putting all the unpleasant things into one picture, but this is the kind of existence some people seem to like. It’s not attractive, but I think even these kinds of scenes should be represented in art.
I do feel a lot of art is either derivative or serves the ego of the artist. My painting Look at Me is about people who use their art as a vehicle for their own ego. There is a kind of self obsession when a rich artist complains about her own comparatively minor problems in life when at the same time truly appalling things are going on in the world.
I never went to art school. I did a Higher National Diploma in technical drawing, and learned perspective and construction techniques. But applying them to a whole composition is another thing altogether.
I paint in oils on MDF. Each artwork is at least a metre wide. I am still learning to paint as I go along, and see each painting as a kind of ongoing experiment in which to get better. Each time, I challenge myself to do something I don’t feel I can do, and I’m never sure how it’s going to go. I am probably also not fixed in one particular painting style either, as I don’t think I have found “my style”.
None of my art has been displayed by galleries. I am not even sure if my work is commercial at all. But I don’t even aim to paint commercially.I believe that to paint something with money in mind is, well, selling out your art, for want of a better way of putting it.
However, that doesn’t mean I am against making money from what I paint. It’s just that I am not doing it for nor expecting money. Having said that, it would be a better way to earn a living than some of the catastrophically dull work I have done before.
I’ve had different jobs, but I don’t believe in having a specific identity. I had to set painting aside for a while as I took time out to write a book, and I’m loosely collecting material for another one. At this point in life I’m focusing on what I really want to do. But I’m 37 years old now, and the older I get the more risky it feels.
Michael P Cooper grew up in Cheshire/Merseyside on the largest, linked council estate in Europe. His work as a journalist brought him to Windsor 11 years ago, and something about the place made him stay. “I don’t know if it’s the castle or the architecture,” he says, “but there’s a quality to it, something special. When it’s sunny, you just can’t beat it.”
Cynthia Barlow Marrs ASGFA is the Art Editor for Beat Magazine. An artist based in Windsor, Cynthia is on the Council of the Society of Graphic Fine Art. She started out with a degree in fine art and worked internationally in environmental planning and business-community programme development before returning to England to stay put and paint.
More about Cynthia Barlow Marrs can be found here: www.cbarlowmarrs.com
Jean Baudrillard, French philosopher and social critic 1929 – 2007
Paul Delvaux, Belgian surrealist painter 1897 – 1994
Otto Dix, German painter and printmaker 1891 – 1969