Min Cooper at Field Row Studios in Worthing
PUBLISHED: 09:20 13 September 2016
Having worked as a newspaper cartoonist and award-winning film-maker Min Cooper tells Duncan Hall why she now focuses on fine art
Tucked off Worthing’s bustling Montague Street is a small oasis of calm.
Formerly a café, Field Row Studios has been both Min Cooper’s gallery and work space for just over a year after she decided to stop working from her Hurstpierpoint home.
“People would say to me: ‘How can you work from home? Don’t you see the skirting boards need dusting every time you try to start?’ That wasn’t a problem – what was difficult was when people came to the house to see my work. It was my work room but it was also my home, which made it a bit uncomfortable.” The home plays a big part in Min’s current series inspired by kitchen utensils, which she began after making her 35-year-old daughter a cookery book. “It made me stop and look at items like a colander,” says 69-year-old Min. “I thought it was beautiful and functional, but often just left skulking around in cupboards. They are simple, and they work simply, but everything about them has been pared down.”
The utensil images are only part of Min’s portfolio on her studio walls. The majority boil down downland landscapes, seascapes or familiar images into simple lines and blocks of colour. The subjects follow her passions – from flowers to Virginia Woolf, to her egg tempura paintings of the chalk downlands around Wolstonbury Hill and Ditchling Beacon as previously featured in Sussex Life. Min has followed her muse from her days as a newspaper cartoonist working for The Guardian, The Independent, The Times, New Statesman and The Observer. Rather than work to commissions she would pitch ideas to art editors about what was going on in her world.
She first tried her hand at cartooning as a recently single mother with two small daughters. She says: “It was when Mrs Thatcher ruled the world and single parents with arts degrees were not welcome. I’m wildly dyslexic and didn’t have an O level in English or maths so I couldn’t be a teacher. I had a degree in English literature and had always drawn, so I thought I should tie words and pictures together.” On her first meeting with The Guardian she sold a cartoon about a single woman diner being moved to a terrible table by an unsympathetic waiter. “It just happened they were running a story on single dining,” says Min. “I was in the right place at the right time. I don’t think I sold another one for nine months…” Part of what attracted her to the medium was the way a message could be conveyed. “When you draw characters you can reach a lot of people without shouting.” Working for the media influenced the way she now works, using a pressure sensitive glass pad which draws directly onto a computer screen. “You get a wonderful line you can’t get with pen and ink,” she says. “I put it into Photoshop to put colour in, and then send it to [Hove-based printers] Spectrum. Once you print and sell one you can just print another one – with no loss of quality or waste.”
Min moved on from cartooning in the early 2000s. “Everything comes around again in seven or eight years,” she says. “I went around twice and felt I had nothing left to say – and it was time for someone else to say it.” From a small cupboard-sized space in her Bermondsey flat she turned a series of alphabet-influenced prints into animations. “I spent months making the films,” she says. “I would take them to film festivals where they won prizes, but I never got any money. I did that for four years and felt there must be more to life. It was nice to come back into the light!” Her work was shown at Bristol’s Encounters short film festival, the 2Annas Festival in Riga, Latvia, and the Moondance Festival in Colorado where her short film Alphabet – which began with her turning an A into an alligator – won a Spirit of Moondance Award in 2005.
She is now focused on fine art – but not the sort bought up by investment bankers. She wants her art to be both accessible and affordable. “I can produce beautiful unlimited prints for £15 a go,” she says. “They are not sold anywhere else.” She moved to Hurstpierpoint because of her love of Sussex’s trees and space, as well as its proximity to London. Her daughters Rachel and Helen and her three grandchildren are split between London and Tarring.
In September Min plans to bring in more artists’ work to the gallery to complement her pieces