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COOP: Devil Girls as metaphor.
My first exposure to the art of Chris Cooper was both unintentional and mind-blowing.
I had been an avid fan of what is called "Industrial/Goth/Electronic music", music from bands like My Life With The Thrill Kill Cult, Skinny Puppy, Ministry, Pigface, and Nine Inch Nails (I could go on and on, you don't want me to, trust me.) I had heard a few songs from an over the top electronic band called Lords of Acid that specialized in raunchy tongue in cheek lyrics set to catchy dance beats.
I picked up their most recent CD, this was 93-94 or so, and was mildly surprised that 90% of the cover art was covered in stickers. I was no stranger to explicit cover art, but 90%? Wouldn't a couple well-placed stickers have done the job? I carried it out to my car and removed the cellophane and instantly saw why the well placed sticker strategy wouldn't cut it. The cover was of several nude women involved in an orgy, but this wasn't any simple orgy and calling them women seemed an understatement. They were beautiful. They were red? They had tails? I was looking at an orgy in a very stylized, cocktail lounge version of hell! The stickers made sense now, matter of fact I was amazed that the cover was used at all. I quick look in the corner, you know the lower right or left hand corner where every artist signs his work, showed that this lovely piece of pseudo-porn was the work of COOP.
Check out the CD cover here, but first let me warn you that it is very explict.
So what's the big deal? Am I so pathetic that I would have to look at drawings of naked chicks? Maybe, but that's not the point. COOP's art was not just naked chicks, nor was it simply demonic drawings. COOP's work was full of fun, his Devil looks like Sammy Davis Jr. using a cigarette holder, his women range from the perfect 10 to the chunky freckle- faced farm girl, and the whole shooting match is wrapped up in bright "comic book" colors. I was instantly struck by the retro Bigg Daddy Roth / Ratfink feel of COOP's work.
Six years later I am on a Japanese toy collecting BBS and come across someone posting as COOP. After seeing him post several times he sends images of what he is currently working on and I realized it's the same guy. I found out that he currently has a book of his collected work out and that a new line of toys based on his work are in the works.
Being a good sport Chris agreed to an interview. I caught up with him berore the new year, but took forever to get the interview posted here.
ZPB: Your art definitely has images that would cause Billy Graham and Jerry Falwell to keel over of massive coronaries, how would you defend it against critics who say it's sexist and demonic?
COOP: I'm not really interested in trying to defend my work. If folks don't like it, they should avoid it, but I'm not interested in changing what I do on behalf of others. Frankly, I never hear complaints from Right-wing religious types. It's usually supposed "liberals" that want to censor my work.
ZPB: It would seem like a given but, have you ever been approached by anyone to do a comic book using your art and characters?
COOP: Yes, but comics are such a laborious process, with such tiny financial rewards, that it hasn't been of much interest to me. I love reading comics, though.
ZPB: What new projects are you working on?
COOP: Nothing too exciting right now, just some small paintings for myself. I'll start on some new merchandise designs after the first of the year.
ZPB: How did the "Devil Girls" end up being so prevalent in your work and why do you think they have come to be a Coop standard?
COOP: I just like to draw 'em, and folks seem to want to buy 'em. I think that the fantasy element of a beautiful girl with shiny red skin, horns, and a tail is very powerful, and people respond to that. Lots of women buy the devil girl images, and I think that they identify with them as some kind of symbol of their own "inner devil."
ZPB: What do you draw/paint for yourself?
COOP: These days, not too much. I did just start some small paintings of Japanese vinyls, just as an exercise. I guess that my sketchbook work counts too, although many of those images evolve into finished art at some point.
ZPB: I know you collect Japanese toys, but specifically which kinds
of toys? Diecast? Vinyl?
COOP: Unfortunately, I seem to collect everything Japanese! I just really respond to old Japanese monster, robot, and space toys. Something about the design sensibility really appeals to me. Plus, the quality of construction and materials were so superior to anything else produced at the time. They really are works of art.
ZPB: What was the most over the top work you have ever done? The one that you're amazed you did the one that you wouldn't want your Grandmother to see.
COOP: That's a hard question to answer, because I never do things with the intention of being shocking or over the top. I just create images that appeal to me. If other folks freak out, well, that's their problem, isn't it?
ZPB: Who or what do you consider to be your greatest influence?
COOP: Everything that I like eventually ends up influencing my work, either directly or indirectly. My biggest single influence as an artist is Man Ray, simply for the way he lived his life, and his understanding that art should be more like play, and not work. Visually, my works looks nothing like his, but I always try to approach my work the same way that he approached his own.
ZPB: What was the driving force behind a line of toys? Did you want them or did your fans?
COOP: Both. I was approached with the idea, and it sounded like a fun thing to do. The business of the toy business is slow and grueling, though. Hopefully, they will hit the shelves someday soon.
ZPB: Do you consider the book a retrospective or is this just volume one?
COOP: The book is a pretty comprehensive collection of everything up to this point. There will be more books, as soon as I make some more art! I will also be releasing a companion sketchbook in 2002.
You may like it, you may hate it but you can't ignore it. Chris Cooper is doing what he wants to do and making plenty of folks happy in the process.-Brad