Cartoonist and illustrator Dave Cooper has made a career of multiple passions. Whether it’s his animated shows for kids on Nickelodeon or his fine art practice, he’s garnered praise for his distinctive style and irreverent humor. (He was last mentioned on HiFructose.com here.) In an interview with Hi-Fructose, the Ottawa-based artist talks about his studio space and returning to the canvas. (Photographs by Jeremie Deschenes)
Hi-Fructose Magazine: You’ve touched so many industries over the years: underground comics, fine art, and animation. What led your recent return to focusing on oil painting and print products?
Dave Cooper: I’m always all about variety. Ideally, I’m working on all those things at once. But because of my bizarre good fortune at getting greenlights for two of my mainstream kids shows, I had to drop everything else. So, against my nature, I had a hiatus from painting and comics for four years. What happens to me when I’m put in those circumstances is I very gradually start to crave the thing I can’t have. By the time production on both my shows wrapped, I was so voraciously hungry to make paintings and comics. and I’ll soon be making short animated art films as well—the perfect balance. I know that eventually I’ll get that hunger for making another TV show. I definitely have the bug, but for now, I just need to feast on the other stuff. I can’t tell you how blissful that first month back at painting was. Just amazing.
HF: What do you feel are the common threads in each of these projects?
DC: In my work for adults, it’s a sort of overflowing, billowing sexuality. I like to try and touch on that state that is playful, but agitated, but ravenously randy. And there’s almost always an element of extreme contrast, whether it’s cute and horrifying, or innocent and lurid, grungy and delicate, light and dark… I never force stuff. I just have explorative periods where I sketch without direction. I try to be totally aimless. Then, out of those stacks of sketches come little germs of ideas. There’s usually something that makes me giggle or gives me a rush of some kind.
HF: In an interview a few years ago, you said that you feel like you need contrast between the projects you’re working on at a given point. Is this still the case?
DC: More than ever. Maybe i’m ADHD. I don’t know. But I can be wildly passionate about one discipline, say comics, and then it suddenly becomes excruciatingly boring and only painting will do. I feel like I never want to make comics again and that painting will satisfy me forever. It’s so frustrating to never be sure of the future that way. Invariably, it switches. Sometimes from day to day; sometimes from decade to decade! I keep lots of notes, so that if an idea pops into my head for a comic, but I’m not making comics at that stage in my life, then I’ll find that note when I am.
HF: How has your studio practice evolved over the years? Is there something consistent you’ve always needed in the space in which you create?
DC: Solitude is the main thing. I’ve been pretty lucky with my recent studio in that there’s also tons of open space, and tons of light. Those are both absolutely wonderful. There have been times over the past decade when I’ve felt more at home here than I do in my own home. But space and natural light are both icing. I know from my past that as long as there’s solitude and time, I can make work in the most cramped little dumps.
HF: You’ve used social media to give your followers a peek into your process and to sell work. Do you see outlets like Instagram as more of an asset for artists than a hindrance?
DC: Yeah, I love it! I have colleagues who get really disenchanted with it and disappear for a while. I don’t know: Maybe it’s the bickering. I try to keep out of that stuff as much as I can. I come from an ancient past, when we would enthusiastically send and receive handwritten letters. I’d send fan letters to my favourite artists, I’d receive fan letters from people from all over the world; I’d maintain correspondences with colleagues. I still have a lot of nostalgia for the old days, actual letters that would go on for pages. But these days, I love that I can show thousands of people what i’m working on immediately, rather than spending 9 months on a comic, sending it to the printer, getting it into stores, then receiving feedback a couple weeks after that. I’m really excited to post snapshots of my works in progress. I’d do it every day if I could remember! iIpost tons of stuff on Instagram.
HF: What are you currently working on?
DC: Working on my biggest ever gallery show. I’m making 70 pieces for the amazing Daniel Maghen Galerie in Paris [for] 2020. Daniel and Olivier have been such supportive patrons over the years, so it’s really exciting to be having this giant show with them! it’s been so satisfying to dive back into painting full-time after such a long hiatus. I remember fretting that I may have forgotten how to do it! But in fact, the first painting I tackled was a dream. It felt very comfortable and spontaneous. The show will consist of two main bodies of work. One is a whole series of paintings designed to seem like advertising art for a fictitious airline, super naughty and bizarre. Ultimately all the work from that series will end up in a strange art book, with spot illustrations, columns of nonsense text, logos, etc. Like the airline company’s annual report or something.
The second body of work is something that i’m thinking of almost like the kinky fine art equivalent of what i’ve done in television over the past few years, creating vast worlds and huge ensemble casts. But in this case, there’s no “story” to speak of, just a sort of documenting of this strange world and its beings. Sexy ladies, robots, weird little creatures, forests, cities, oceans. Some are the strange creatures I’ve peppered throughout my work in the past, but i’ll be expanding on it and hopefully making it all more concrete. That’ll end up some sort of self-contained art book as well. And alongside that, I’ll be making some short films, both animated and maybe my first forays into live action as well. Also making commissions on the side, if anyone’s interested. just hit me up on Instagram: @davecooper67.
Oh, and my latest book, “MUDBITE,” was just released from Fantagraphics. We’re doing a book release at the great Scott Eder Gallery in Jersey City on March 16. Show runs till the 21st. I’ll be at the opening signing books, and we’re exhibiting tons of original artwork, too!
Cooper recently wrote, designed, and produced “The Absence of Eddy Table,” a short film directed by Rune Spaans and based on Cooper’s works. You can watch the trailer and rent the film here. You can also click on the still below.
See more works from the artist’s studio below.