Born in England and raised all over the globe, J.A.W. Cooper has now settled herself in downtown Los Angeles. Developing her love of everything natural as she gallivanted around the world in her youth, it’s obvious in her artworks that she has an affinity with nature. Drawing inspiration from Curio shops, Natural History Museums and her collection of animal skulls, Cooper is inspired by the grotesque, alien and flawed. In between her busy schedule of freelance illustration and exhibitions, she was kind enough to have a quick chat to us about lions and tigers and hairless cats, oh my!
So, let’s talk about nipples. Your lovely ladies are often depicted in little to no clothing, have you ever run into any problems with censorship on Facebook or Instagram?
No, but I certainly have friends who have had their accounts closed because of nipples in artwork; which seems ridiculous to me but I don’t make the rules. I used to censor my images but it was a pain and confused people, so I figure I’ll keep showing my work in full until told otherwise.
You feature felines quite frequently throughout your work, what is it in particular that fascinates you about cats? And more importantly, do you have any pets?
I am fascinated by all animals but cats and large cats in particular have that certain ju ne se quois; which is french for the “ability to eviscerate you in one swift movement.” Earnestly I love the athleticism and power of their bodies and the grace of their movements. To many they are the embodiment of wildness and even the domesticated variety can easily revert to a feral existence.
What do you find is the most challenging part about being an artist?
This career requires that you invest a great deal of yourself – your fears, hopes, experiences, and perceptions – into your work and at the same time requires that you remain detached enough to be critical of that work. It is a difficult balance between vulnerability and professionalism and while you may be satisfied at times with your effort or growth, but you are never satisfied with what you produce, and in many ways you hope to never be. The moment that you are satisfied with your work is the moment that you stagnate, so it is imperative that you learn to see your career as a journey and not a destination.
Your handling of both animal and female features is quite delicate and beautiful, yet you also incorporate these dark and grotesque elements into your work. What is it about the combination that you enjoy creating?
I find imperfection and the contrast between the grotesque and the beautiful more captivating than beauty alone.
What does art mean to you? Is it therapeutic? An outlet? A compulsion? A hobby? A career?
I would say that it is both a compulsion and a career – and I keep those two separated as much as I can. My work that people are familiar with (that is available to see online) are either studies / sketches, editorial, or gallery work – which is all essentially my personal work. Professionally I work as a freelance illustrator for the entertainment and advertising industry doing everything from sketch art to storyboards to character design and a ton of initial exploration and ideation. I absolutely adore my job even though the work I produce is not “mine,” and it allows me the freedom to work half the month and spend the rest of my time camping, traveling, and working on personal projects. My personal work keeps me excited about what I do and informs my “taste” (for which I am hired), and my professional work keeps my personal work from stagnating, allows me to feel like a useful member of a team, and frees me up financially to live a fulfilled and adventurous life.
Your work is often intricate and quite detailed, what’s your process for planning out a piece and do you use any reference imagery?
When starting a major series or painting I initially create lists of words (objects, emotive words, colours, prompts) from which to draw inspiration and direction. Then I create sketches for which I absolutely use reference images, but I am careful to not be a slave to them either. I am frequently inspired by fashion and fine-art photography, and shoot images of myself or friends for anatomy/pose/drapery reference (especially hands.) For more exotic animals such as tigers that I may not have access to shoot myself, I gather large quantities of images from the web and from books and use them in combination with my knowledge of animal anatomy and behavior to create my own sketches.
How long does it usually take you to complete a painting?
Anything from 4 hours to two weeks – depending on the size, medium, and complexity.
As well as creating gorgeous work for galleries, you do a lot of freelance illustration, sketch art, story-boarding, character design, concept art, ideation and visualization for editorial use and advertising campaigns. Is there anything you can’t do!?
I cannot whistle. I try very hard and everyone I meet claims that THEY will be the one to finally teach me – but all I ever accomplish is a few sad, wet sputterings.
What’s been your favourite project to work on outside the gallery space?
I don’t think that I can pick just one favourite. I really enjoy working with nice people who trust me to deliver without many revisions or demands. Recently I executed a book cover for a small press in Canada and a shirt design for a wonderful local musician and both were just wonderful clients and I think that ultimately shows in the quality of the work. I see all the work that I do outside of print/motion/advertising companies as personal work and so I only accept jobs that interest me and where the clients are respectful and sweet.
It seems that a lot of artists’ work ends up resembling themselves in some way, do you think your characters reflect you at all?
I grew up traveling and living in many exotic places and I spend a great deal of time camping and hiking – so I think the feral qualities of my girls reflect my own feral compulsions and wanderlust.
Have you found an amazing technique or approach that you wish you’d discovered earlier?
Hmmmm… Oh! I love the Pentel Brush-Pen. I first noticed the incredible illustrator Kim Jung Gi using them and bought one for myself late last year and now they are my go-to with quick sketches at the Natural History Museum and while on-the-go.
Do you have any artistic plans or goals for the coming year?
I am solidifying plans to release a book, and continuing to work on my upcoming solo show at La Luz de Jesus Gallery in Hollywood which will open in April 2015.
You can see my more of work online at the following locations, the most frequently updated is Instagram!
Thanks for chatting to us Cooper!