Eileen Cooper RA: National Portrait Gallery Acquisition and New Drawings
Portraits and Self Portraits 2018 – 2019
Words by Eileen Cooper RA:
“I left my role as Keeper of The Royal Academy of Arts in 2017. My main responsibility had been for the RA Schools. This marked the end for me, of a 40 year part-time teaching career in art schools. In some ways, this new freedom allowed a nagging interest in drawing from life to develop. In particular, an interest in making portraits and how I might embrace this in my own practice.
The question then, who to invite to sit for me? Living in South East London, I was aware that many of my ex students lived locally to me. I knew that being artists, knowing the challenges of drawing from life, they probably wouldn’t expect too much from me and therefore not judge my attempts harshly, so it seemed natural to start with them. The question of ‘likeness’ was ever present, being an important issue.
I started the portraits in summer 2018. Naturally, given the female figure is central to my practice, I invited women to sit for me first, soon to be followed by the men. Mostly they were aged between 30-45, artists working in all media, usually pushing the boundaries of painting, performance, moving image, print and sculpture…. my graduates.
The project developed from there, with many unforeseen challenges, which I embraced along the way. The most surprising thing was that the artists I invited were as nervous as I was, therefore, I needed to put them at their ease and work speedily, never overthinking the pose, materials or process. A method of working developed and luckily I was not short of models, woman and men, sometimes couples, even friendship and family groups, many of them my ex students or sometimes colleagues from the RA. I wanted to show this diverse group of people that I had such strong attachments to.”
Eileen Cooper RA – Self Portrait in Black Dress, 2019. Pastel and Charcoal, 151 x 53 cm. National Portrait Gallery Collection.
Eileen Cooper RA – Cathie Pilkington RA, 2019. Pastel and Charcoal, 160 x 53 cm. National Portrait Gallery Collection.
“Materials, different papers and scale became important considerations. I must have drawn over 70 portraits during 2018-2019. Eventually, I had to face the issue of a self-portrait.
I think self – portraits probably should be unflattering. Certainly they must be honest. I think my drawing ‘Self Portrait in a Black Dress’ is hard hitting, definitely it’s not flattering. It’s rather an unusual portrait of an artist, as she’s dressed up to go out but instead, is in the studio, fingers holding a piece of charcoal, and glasses perched on her head. I hope its both a penetrating and uncompromising insight in looking at oneself over a sustained period. As often happened in these portraits, I needed to add more paper to the drawing as it grew larger.
The portrait of Cathie Pilkington was done in a hurry as she arrived late. Cathie had a strong sense of how she wanted to be portrayed. Like many of my sitters, I’d asked her to bring something, she’d chosen a doll, for her a significant piece. The drawing just grew and grew and I needed to add more paper to the original piece at the top and at the bottom. Cathie and I are great friends, sharing northern roots and a similar sense of humour. Clothes are important to Cathie, in this instance she reminded me a bit of Mary Poppins.” – Eileen Cooper RA
The artist, Eileen Cooper RA and her sitter, Cathie Pilkington RA.
Eileen Cooper RA: New Drawings
A new series of portrait drawings in charcoal and pastel by Eileen Cooper RA will be exhibited at the
London Art Fair 2022, April 20 – 24.
Eileen Cooper has returned to drawing from life in her London studio, inviting friends and students from her time at the Royal Academy Schools. These portraits strike an empathetic tone with the relaxed and intimate distance created between artist and model(s), their body language at ease with love and contemplation.
The female figure has always been central to Eileen Coopers work. Her return to drawing-from-life in 2018 has undoubtedly influenced her fresh use of materials in these new and vibrant portraits. In 2022 there is a return of symbolism. For example, a boy holds a pomegranate, a young woman and tiger cat, and new visions include a ‘mother and child’ and ‘father and child’ series. The reference is again classical, the interpretation entirely contemporary.
Eileen Cooper RA – Cradle, 2021. Pastel and Charcoal, 76 x 56 cm.
Eileen Cooper RA – Play, 2021. Pastel and Charcoal, 76 x 56 cm.
Eileen Cooper RA – Boy Holding a Pomegranate, 2021. Pastel and Charcoal, 76 x 56 cm.
Eileen Cooper RA – Cat’s Cradle, 2021. Pastel and Charcoal, 100 x 76 cms
Capsule Exhibition News
Eileen Cooper’s New Drawings
An ongoing selected showcase of new works from Rabley artists.
March 2022 – Sarah Gillespie, New Mezzotint
Please contact the gallery for inquiries and arrange to visit the gallery. Or view works in our Online Shop below.
Tel: +44 (0)1672 511999
All of Eileen Cooper RA’s new works on paper will be available and exhibited at the upcoming
London Art Fair 2022, April 20th – April 24th.
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