Jim Cooper’s figurative sculpture in clay is a distinctively comical oeuvre. His retinue comprises mawkish characters with specious grins full of teeth and bug-eyed stares, cats and dogs of every denomination, wastrels and minstrels, sad sack characters, music groupies and faded celebrities. Throw in a relative or two from the West Coast and the self-satisfied look on an accountant’s face after announcing a tax refund. Cooper’s anarchic menagerie is ceramic pageantry on a grand scale. 

The artist’s previous work has always contained a quotient of the ‘adorably cute’ that calls intelligent comprehension into play with equal amounts of coy embarrassment. For this Objectspace project, Cooper has applied his ‘Sponge Bob Square Pants’ drollness to the architectural context. He addresses a world of architectural ornamentation where ceramic technology has long been usurped by concrete. The insipid appeal of concrete is valorized in the annals of coffee table brutalism, dubbed ‘minimalism’ and understood as the unofficial uniform of corporate ‘well-being’. Cooper defies any such niceties. His exuberant and compulsive desire is to muddy the waters through installing jumbo-sized ceramic baubles as architectural ‘bling’. 

Cooper’s initial impetus for the work came when he witnessed a class of school children’s first attempts at throwing pottery on a wheel at Guldagergaard International Ceramics Centre in Denmark. After the class departed, their misshapen and lumpen vessels were unceremoniously scooped from the wheel and stacked on top of one another pending the recycling bucket. The ease and simple process of stacking ‘form’, somewhere between the proto-modernist Brancusi column and a tower of gelato ice cream — slopped and slipping — became the inspiration. 

The more the merrier might well be the mantra of Cooper’s obsessive mode of production. In his studio a cortège of a dozen ‘anything’ is always better doubled. His strings of beads might be readily understood as signifying the beads of sweat that accompany labour. The physical grunt of their repetitive making signals an abrasive approach to any notion of ‘mastery’. Bombastic rather than nuanced, these pearls are ‘oafish’ not cultured. Cooper’s Godzilla-scale rosaries are abject trophies, a parody of the impoverished ‘big is better’ corporate bauble.

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Dunedin artist Jim Cooper’s critically acclaimed career of more than two decades is based on an idiosyncratic approach to the making of sculpture in clay. In 1989 he completed his undergraduate studies in ceramics at the Otago Polytechnic School of Art, returning in 2000 to complete a Master of Fine Arts.  After a period of teaching at the Otago Polytechnic, he commenced his career as a full time professional artist.

Cooper is one of a select group of practitioners whose work has brought a new pluralism to the domain of contemporary ceramic practice. His work has been extensively exhibited in dealer galleries and public institutions within New Zealand and Australia and he has been the recipient of numerous awards and residencies. He was Supreme Award winner of the Norsewear Art Award in 2006. International judges of the Portage Ceramic Award have recognised his work with awards on four occasions including the Premier Award in 2009 and 2012. Cooper’s international residency awards including the Yingge International Ceramics Museum and Gallery Taiwan (2009-2010) and Gudagergaard International Ceramics Research Centre, Skaelskor, Denmark (2016-2017). It was during this time in Denmark that the genesis of the Objectspace project began.

Jim Cooper, Yea Well, Now Since Then, 2018, Image: Charlotte Parallel

Jim Cooper, Yea Well, Now Since Then, 2018, Image: Charlotte Parallel.

Jim Cooper, Image: courtesy of Whitespace