One of the first things people notice when they see David Cooper’s work for the first time is the elongated figures that populate all his work, from basketball backboards to giant murals to canvases to ping pong paddles to illustrations to the prints of his work that just went live on his Thumbtack Press artist page.
The figures are definitely human, they’re by no means alien, but they come off as almost super-human, reaching impossible distances, handling impossible grips. Even in pieces without as much sunshine (like Delivering Despair below), their reaching gives David’s work an energy. The characters he creates might be contorted, but they’re not fragmented or chaotic. They’re in the moment, endeavoring, working, faithful of their reach – they might even be having fun.
David took the time to chat with us about his process, painting giant murals, sketching by hand, and more below. You can see his entire initial TTP offering here.
DC: Morning Ben. Are you there?
TTP: Hey! How you doing?
DC: I’m pretty good. I’m at work producing a cover shoot for the magazine I work for as a photo editor.
TTP: Yeah I noticed on your blog there was a bunch of styled photo work – but your training is in illustration, no? Or have you always done photo stuff?
DC: Yes, I have a BFA from Pratt Institute in Communications Design with a concentration in Illustration, but I’ve always been interested in photography.
TTP: And fashion too, it seems?
DC: Yes. Fashion, covers, and conceptual beauty still lives.
TTP: It’s always been interesting to me how “styling” overlaps with the images themselves. Like, what’s in the images versus how the images lay onto a page.
DC: The styling is a very important part of the shot. It’s one of the many elements that help to create an overall mood.
TTP: Yeah. And it’s like, even though there’s this word “styling” – how is it different from similar composition-related aspects in illustration, painting, etc?
DC: It’s not very different at all. The word “Styling” when referring to photography and painting basically relates to visual language, which will always affect the composition in unique ways.
TTP: True – so where is work exactly, if I can ask? What mag?
DC: The magazine is called Siempre Mujer. I helped start it up back in 2005.
TTP: Oh word. But so back to different contexts, your painting/illustration is also on a million different mediums. That ping pong paddle is so legit. How do you approach different mediums – like, a mural versus a backboard versus a canvas versus something digital?
DC: Thanks man.
TTP: Does it change how/where the idea’s formed?
DC: I try to approach most of my projects in the same way. It all starts with a basic idea and a drawing.
TTP: By hand?
DC: Yes, all of my initial sketches start by hand. Before I start to draw I have to consider what I’m drawing on. If I’m planning a mural, I have to think about the dimensions of the wall. If I’m painting on a basketball, I have to think about drawing on a round shape. The crazier the object, the more I have to plan. One of the most interesting objects I’ve painted on to date has been a Eames lounge chair.
TTP: So, the surface will sometimes dictate the concept and the drawing.
DC: Yes, and the composition.
TTP: In other words it’s not often that you have an idea for one medium that ends up on another? I mean obviously ideas can combine, fuse, overlap, etc., but you seem to corral them into specific projects.
DC: For the most part yes, but I’ve also done pieces that were only intended to be paintings and they were eventually placed on graphic tees and even silk scarves.
TTP: Which mediums do you most like to work with? I mean are there certain ones that you dread or look forward to?
DC: I honestly love them all, but if I had to pick a favorite it would be painting murals. Painting a mural is such an insane experience! There’s nothing like it.
TTP: In what way? Being outside just in itself makes it a win to me.
DC: First of all, painting large is such a rewarding and physical act.
DC: When I paint a mural, it demands 100% of my mind and body. I totally get consumed by the physical act of creating it.
DC: I also love the fact that when I paint a mural outside, I’m totally out in the open. It can easily become a man vs. nature scenario, which is a very humbling experience. I also love the fact that people are free to watch me paint and ask me questions. It becomes a way of connecting with the community.
TTP: Ya. It’s incredible. What about the characters that often show up in your murals? With the long limbs, the big heads – are they inspired by anything? (Actually, they’re in a lot of your work, not just murals.)
DC: The characters are part of my visual language. I love abstracting the human body to fit my composition. It helps me to solve visual challenges that I might be faced with during the sketching process.
TTP: Whoa that’s a cool way to think about it. I don’t know that I’ve ever heard that – “abstracting the human body to fit my composition.”
DC: It’s a freeing experience to not have to be confined to a “realistic” point of view.
TTP: Fluid. Ya. Also allows more sort of improv when you’re out there.
DC: Exactly! In 2010 I painted a mural in Miami during Art Basel. It was 95ft long x 25 ft high.
DC: I sketched and planned as much as I could, but once i got to the wall, I freestyled most of the drawing because I didn’t want to feel limited by my own sketch.
TTP: Right. None of that grid system fascism.
DC: I wanted the drawing to feel fresh, new and spontaneous.
TTP: The grid system is dead long live the grid system.
DC: A grid system would just drive me insane. No offense to anyone that believes in the grid system! Ha! It’s just not how “I” go about things.
TTP: The grid system illuminati is gonna come after you. Art school teachers the world over will show up at your place with pitchforks and lanterns.
DC: Man, I’m gonna shut my mouth about the grid system.
TTP: Anyway I don’t want to take up too much of your time – I appreciate this. I had fun. Enjoy your weekend.
DC: Same to you. Speak to you soon.
See David’s Thumbtack Press artist page here.