John Spurling

Rough stuff

The red spot for ‘Sold’ has appeared beside most of Julian Cooper’s mountain paintings at the Art Space Gallery. ‘I’ve always managed to sell work,’ he said in a previous catalogue, ‘since I was a child. That’s the way I was brought up: seeing art not just as a cultural thing, but in practical terms.’ His mother was a sculptor, his father and grandfather painters. Indeed, this dynasty of artists based in the Lake District still does a brisk business in reproductions and postcards of his father’s and grandfather’s landscapes — and some of the originals, too — from the Heaton Cooper Studio in Grasmere.

Julian Cooper studied at Goldsmith’s College in London in 1965–8 and, influenced by the times and by two of his teachers — the distinguished artists Albert Irvin and Basil Beattie — went enthusiastically abstract, before marking out a fresh territory for himself as a figure painter in the 1970s and 1980s. His subjects even then, when he was consciously distancing himself from his father and grandfather and the landscape in which he had grown up and learnt his trade, tended to have mountains in the background, whether actually or by implication. He painted a striking series of large canvases inspired by episodes from Malcolm Lowry’s novel Under the Volcano, whose foregrounds owed more to Manet and Degas than to anything contemporary.

In the 1990s he at last homed in on mountains, those of his native Lakeland, the Alps and then — almost, it seemed, as a dare to himself — the Peruvian Andes, where, setting up his special folding easel at 17,000 feet on the edge of a rapidly eroding glacier, he painted four six-foot canvases on site, using brushes as long as his arm.

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