Chris Cooper (aka Coop) is someone i’ve been a huge fan of for years and almost certainly the artist responsible for my interest in the American Gig Poster scene. So it was with some excitement that I received my signed copy of his latest book Idle Hands – The Art of Coop. A book that covers a period of creative reflection after achieving massive success with such iconic work as the Smoking Devil character, which had arguably been merchandised to death. Coop himself writes about his own mixed feelings toward his work, the cure to which was a move into the world of ‘fine art’ and embracing again the good old brush, paint and canvas.
The book itself follows the format set by 2001’s Devils Advocate (designed by the awesome House Industries) and should be considered a second volume. A thorough, if not slightly over analysed introduction by L.A. art critic Mat Gleason kicks things off, followed by an initial third which recaps on work that might be familiar to those who already own Devils Advocate or the collected sketchbooks, The Big Fat One.
Then it’s into the new stuff, and the showpiece of a gallery exhibition that unveiled Coop’s new work, Parts with Appeal. A huge work made up of thirteen, 6 foot square painted canvases, showing influence from pop artists James Rosenquist and Robert Williams, whilst remaining the unmistakable, hot rodding and devilish Coop we all know and love. The centerfold shows this piece in all it’s glory (I was tempted to add a photo, but you’ll just have to buy the book instead) as well as each section separately on a full-page.
Coop’s appeal for me has always been his ability with black line; being able to suggest form and dimension with only subtle changes in line weight and ultra smooth brush strokes. Trust me, i’ve tried to achieve this myself and it isn’t easy! It’s great to see how well this translates to the new painted style and the remainder of the book is full of new examples like this as well as experiments with meticulously painted halftone and layered effects.
There is plenty here for new and old Coop fans to enjoy, with personal notes that always make for interesting reading along with some studio photographs, bizarre toys and commercial work. In a period of popular art which is becoming reduced to a series of homogenised vector files, i’m glad someone like Coop exists who is moving illustration forward and producing the coolest work for us to enjoy. One of my books of the summer.