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From Indiana to the World: In Conversation with Cooper on Art, Inspiration and the Internet

Hypeart wandered around Gstaad, Switzerland with the Indiana-based artist to chat about his new show, life as an artist, his daily inspirations and more.

It was a little under a year ago that Andrew Cooper – the American artist who goes by the mononym Cooper – held his first-ever exhibition at Maddox Gallery’s Westbourne Grove location in London, a sell-out success that helped the artist to establish a global fanbase and secured him buyers from Asia to Europe. This summer the Indiana-native made his way to the picture-perfect town of Gstaad, Switzerland – a playground for the rich and famous – for his second solo show, Wild Life. Indeed, it’s been quite the wild ride for the artist since breaking onto the scene last November, and Cooper’s second outing did not disappoint: on the opening night of the exhibition, he walked back to his hotel while almost all of his works headed to new homes.

Perhaps somewhat ironically, Cooper’s Wild Life builds on what he has become best known for: finding magic in the everyday. The collection of 17 canvases, three drawings and nine tondos depicts scenes straight out of Cooper’s daily existence, one that is heavily inspired by music – with records and speakers a common motif – and by the hidden beauty of everyday domesticity. Cooper’s still life scenes are brimming with energy and become almost animated through his use of color. In Still Life On A Blue Table, the artist uses his twin tools of color and pattern to create a scene that buzzes with life, with spots and swirls and shapes of all sorts.

We recently spent a day with Cooper in Gstaad, Switzerland, meeting up at Maddox on the promenade where he’d turned part of the upper floor into a makeshift studio. Whilst red-dotted artworks adorned the walls of the gallery, this aforementioned section upstairs was filled with unfinished works in progress, some partly painted and others with only outlines in pen. Amongst the pots of paint, half-drank cups of coffee and a well-loved Macbook on the floor were books — lots of books. Books on Basquiat and Warhol, on art and photography; it was immediately obvious where he sought inspiration, and when asked he confirmed, “I need to feel inspired,” he said. “I think… I think it’s just books, really.” Something else that was hard to miss was a pair of all-white, floor-standing speakers – music and books, after all, were not just a source of inspiration, but amongst his most common subjects. He was an artist-in-residence and this felt like a home away from home.

This was Cooper’s first trip to Switzerland. The kid from the midwest has seemingly ventured further east with each painting sold, ending up in Gstaad with its population of just 7,000. While he is still very much early in his journey as a professional artist, his eagerness to evolve is better compared to the town’s imposing landscape than to its number of inhabitants. He’s asked what it felt like to create in such a beautiful and imposing part of the world he said, “the more the more you get into your practice, the more people you meet, the more cultures you see. The work just keeps evolving over time. I’ll take a little bit of here, a little bit from the people, and all of that. I think the mind and the work just keeps expanding and growing.”

As we wandered around Gstaad in a cold, smelly cheese grotto nestled 50 feet below the surface – whilst being surrounded by over 3,000 aging wheels of alpine cheese – we spoke about his new show, life as an artist, his daily inspirations and more.

How did the show come about?

It came about over a six month period, based off the last show and how those canvases turned out and everything. I was really just trying to find the balance between Cooper and Gstaad in the show. I wanted to touch on the Swiss culture, while still remaining Cooper. It’s titled Wild Life because I think that what I’m trying to bring to the art world, and my work is a sense of, I guess, wildness.

So, it’s your first time in Switzerland?

Yes.

A world away from Indiana.

Yes.

What has that done for you in terms of your inspiration and creative process?

I think my mind and the work just keeps expanding and growing. The more you get into your practice, the more people you meet, the more cultures you see. The work just keeps evolving over time. I’ll take a little bit of here, a little bit from the people, and all of that. This [opening] week was really hectic – just like hanging up the works and getting everything done. I’m excited this week to actually start painting here. I’ve only painted a half day really so far and I already have four paintings up and going. So I’m excited to finish a handful and see how they’re going to turn out in the next week or two.

Were there any highlights from the show opening?

I think the highlights were just the great reception of the work. Everyone had so much positive things to say. Well, I was worried about a place I’ve never been to — a kind of a strategic, old school mentality type of place [like Gstaad] — and kind of worrying about if my wild, new fresh, contemporary style was going to work here. But really, we have so many people coming in and saying “this is what Gstaad needed.” This is what the Promenade needed right now, this newness, this freshness. So, you know, that’s what I wrote down months ago, I wanted to bring in a fresh new perspective to Gstaad that it’s never seen before. So that’s what I was really trying to accomplish.

How has your artistry changed since your first show? Did it change you at all?

I think the main thing is just confidence in my work to be able to paint faster and not get so hung up on the small things. Not to go back and recolor the book three times. Just paint it and go. Ultimately, confidence from people loving the work and accepting the work. And me putting that into it, will show to other people. Other than that, it’s really just hard work and evolving at all times; finding new inspiration; finding new color palettes, the freshness of the flowers on the mountains, which I’m putting into the paintings here for the first time. I can take that and incorporate it in the new paintings. Sometimes, when you’re in the same studio or in the same spot for too long, you just paint the same thing over and over. And this is a good break, to be able to find tonnes of new inspiration and a new freshness to bring back to my studio, possibly even to London next summer.

Where do you seek inspiration?

When I need to feel inspired, I just read books of artists that I’m into. I’m always just buying books on the internet to look at, finding things from the past to even recreate for the future in my own way. But, this year, honestly, has been a really good positive year for myself to put into the work. I really didn’t get hung up too many times. It just came out very transparent and onto the canvas. A lot better than the London show [last year].

We’re thousands of miles away from Indiana. How well known are you in your home town? 

It’s actually something I don’t think about because it’s fine to be known there, but I want my work to be known globally. I want to have shows – hopefully one day – all over the world, and me just having a goal to be known in Indiana would bring my mental down. I think it’s about 4,000 miles actually. I think I looked it up and it was 4,200 miles or something. But I don’t even think about it there. I mean, people know me around town and stuff, and that’s fine. But that’s not something I seek out or look into.

What about as an artist in the U.S.? Is that something you’re looking forward to?

I think so. It’ll be nice to show for the third time this year at Art Miami with Maddox. I believe we’re going to be showing four canvases there. But yeah, growing up, I mean, that’s my home turf. So I definitely am looking forward to having a solo exhibition in the U.S. when the time is right. I think that it’s super important for an artist to remain in his home a little bit. Go out and do what you have to do, then come back and bring that home.

Which other artists, your contemporaries, are you into?

A couple of my biggest ones are Danny Fox, he’s from Cornwall [England]. I’ve really been studying his work a lot. Andy Dixon, he’s based in Canada. And I think those two as my contemporaries that are really the only people that inspire me, because I think they’ve kept going, are always evolving and finding new work. I don’t know them, but they’ve been pushing me without even knowing it. Other than that, I would just say Basquiat, Matisse. The colors and energy that Basquiat brings out, I try to put that same energy into my work. I might have five, six coffees a day, he probably had something else. [Laughs] But Matisse, his colors and his borders have been slowly kind of gravitating towards this. Oh, and then another artist Stanley Whitney. He’s actually alive right now. His color usage… I don’t know if you’ve heard of him? He just kind of paints these boxes with colors, very color-patterned.

How would you describe your style?

I think people like to label it under “neo-contemporary”, but as an artist, I don’t. That’s fine for the papers, but I don’t ever want to be put in a box. Because I think once you’re in a box, you feel like you have to stay there to make it work and to sell. So yeah, I mean, you can say “wild contemporary”. They label it as “neo-contemporary”, which is fine. That’s just the style of this still life, but doing it in a way that’s very me and noticeable. I think that’s the important part.

“Just work on your craft, because that’s the only thing that you can take forward with you.”

I noticed earlier you called yourself a “painter”, as opposed to an artist. Do you make a distinction?

I’m an artist first, just because I do design stuff on the computer for the work. I do draw and sketch, but I put the most time into painting. It’s about learning day-to-day techniques of how to apply the paint, how to make it better, and how for it to speak louder. So I do pride myself on saying, “Yes, I am a painter!” because that is what I live and breathe by. Painter first, artist second.

Jay Rutland found you on Instagram. How does the internet impact you or come into your world?

It does, in a big way. I probably spend too much time on Instagram and the Internet — finding new artists, new things that are out there, new inspiration. I love it. You used to take a portfolio with your best images, get it printed out somewhere, walk it down to a gallery, have them sit down with you and look. You can bypass all of that now by hiring a photographer, getting a great photo, and then just posting it to your Instagram for the whole entire world to see. Jay was one of them who saw my work on Instagram and was like, “I like this.” I don’t know if you want to say marketing and branding, but for me, that’s how I look at it. Because I studied design, I have my logo, and, in a way, every single thing I post is in a sense branding myself. And I enjoy that. Some people look down upon that, but I really enjoy planning out each post that I’m going to do, and hiring a photographer to get the best image. And because things can only go to market once. You put the photo online on your screen once. I just really enjoy all aspects of that and my brand.

What do you do when you’re not painting?

I like to walk my dog. He’s a studio dog. He’s there with me all day. So I’ll paint for two or three hours. Take him on a walk. Come back, make a coffee. Paint again. Have lunch. Paint for a couple more hours. Sit outside, catch some sun for 30 minutes. Go back, paint again. Go grab drinks with my girlfriend. And then come back and paint! My life is pretty simple, honestly. I enjoy just having a simple life and putting everything into what I’m building and creating right now.

What would you say to any young Coopers out there?

Believe in yourself, no matter what. People are going to come and go; clients are going to come and go. Just work on your craft, because that’s the only thing that you can take forward with you. No one can ever take that away, no matter what. So just keep going at all times. And when the work is ready, people will notice that and things will start to happen.

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