The Canadian Art Database

Tony Emery

Robert Cooper
Art Gallery of Greater Victoria [1963]

Canadian Art #83, Vol. XX #1, Jan. - Feb. 1963.
[ 502 words ]

Robert Cooper left his native Victoria some years ago to study in Paris. He returned to his hometown for a year or two to work in the decorating department of a local store before heading back to Paris. This show, entitled Les images, is his third in Victoria, his second at the art gallery there.

Four years ago Cooper's work revealed an absorption with textured surface and an apparent indifference to colour. His textures then resembled nothing so much as areas of refined stucco, or rectangles lifted from a well-paved roadway; his monochromes were grey or brown, with an occasional sooty black. Some of the works on show at that time bore incised lines of a fairly arbitrary nature; others had areas that bulged in relief. But it was not easy to detect, behind the bulges and the lines and the uniform textures, the operation of a skilful hand or a guiding sensibility. It would not have been difficult to find, in the street outside, random areas of road or wall that were every bit as interesting as those exhibited inside.

Les images mark an advance from the efforts of four years ago. There is still the tendency towards monochrome, and the preoccupation with texture remains, but the colour is richer, and the artist has learned how to impart variety to the surface of his canvases. These are of two kinds, in the main: those in which the textures are provided by the application of a mixture of sand and glue, and others where a thick rubbery paint has been raised in bumps and gouged into hollows to make simple but regular patterns — the Images referred to in the title of the Alfred Pinsky show. There are artists today who use means every bit as simple as these to produce works of some impact, but Cooper is not, I fear, of their number. The overall impression produced by his show is that here we have toys that have come straight from a factory famous for its novelties; to our chagrin we find, after unwrapping them, that they do not work.

However, Cooper is still barely out of his twenties. If in three of four years time his next show is as far ahead of the present one as this one is of his last, then there is still hope that he may be able to breathe life into his rather jejune creations. He retains, in any case, a sense of humour, to judge from a cutting from a French newspaper displayed in the gallery. A Parisian interviewer had affected to find in Cooper's images the influence of Indian art. 'After all,' Cooper is quoted as replying, 'where I come from one cannot take ten steps without bumping into a Red Indian.' As a description of Oak Bay this may not be reliable, but it is certainly funny.

Canadian Art #83, Vol. XX #1, Jan. - Feb. 1963.

Text: © Tony Emery. All rights reserved.

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