See more of Shannon Cottrell's photos in “Inside COOP's Studio: Huge Paintings, Pinball Machines, Toy Collections and Cute Dogs.”
L.A.-based artist COOP, famous for his references to cars, comics, devils and hot girls, once built a Model A Sedan.
“Obviously, I had as much help on it as I could,” he told us when we visited his downtown Los Angeles studio.
“It's hard to explain to someone who hasn't done it, but when you drive a car where every nut and bolt of it you've held in your hands, it's just a totally different thing,” he says. “It's kind of a hunk of junk, but the car has a soul to it and it's kind of difficult to express. It's like a painting to me that I can drive around in and it has a lot of meaning to me to have that car.”
COOP finished building the car at around the same time as he put together a show featuring six foot-by-six foot panels presented as one painting called “Parts with Appeal.” In fact, he drove the car to the opening.
“It was an interesting parallel,” says COOP of the two projects.
The 2004 endeavor was a significant point in COOP's career, with the show marking the beginning of his large-scale pieces. Similarly massive paintings will be on display in his latest show, “Idle Hands,” which opens at Corey Helford Gallery in Culver City on Friday night.
“When you're working this large, there's such a considerable time investment that you have to make sure you know you're going in the right direction,” says COOP.
The artist does a lot of planning for his pieces.
“Because I have a plan, it's okay to deviate from the plan if there's something that looks better a certain way,” he says. “That happens almost all the time, which is again part of the process of it.”
He starts with sketches, then moves on to line drawings.
“I scan all of that stuff into the computer and then start moving things around until I find something that looks like a painting,” he explains.
After configuring pieces on the computer, he prints out the images and uses either a projector or transfer paper to begin the painting process.
“Oftentimes, I'll start with a color scheme in mind and then, as I start doing it, I realize that it doesn't really work. Things get moved around. It's really a lot of little things,” he says. “If I showed you the original compositions in the computer, it probably wouldn't look that much different to you.”
COOP has to keep the paintings fresh, if for no one else but himself. Each piece can take anywhere from two weeks to a month of daily work.
“Also, if I'm not interested in it, I don't think anyone else is going to be interested in it either,” he says.
So far, only two full images have been officially released for “Idle Hands.” The show, COOP says, is “a little more pop culture, a little more low culture” than past work. We saw several of the works at his studio and can tell you that there's a strong passion for what he considers to be “under-appreciated,” and very American, forms of art, comic books and cars.
“It's an American art form,” he says of comic books. “I think it's every bit as valid as jazz as an American art form. It's part of the iconography.”
Later, he mentioned custom car culture.
“I have a lot of friends who build cars and paint cars, their sense of aesthetics is so refined and so subtle, they wouldn't verbalize it as fine art, but I look at their work and I see things that are so profound and beautiful, that should be in a museum or a gallery,” he explains. “In some ways, they are more sophisticated in their sensibilities than a lot of people who make their livings as painters and sculptors. I try to honor that whenever I can.”
There's a Dodge Challenger, similar to the car that one of his friends drove in high school, present in his latest collection, as well as an homage to Wonder Woman. Wonder Woman, he says, is a “a really good character to mess around with because there are so many ideas about women and femininity and America.”
“It presses a lot of buttons, so it's a fun thing to put out there and see what people think of it,” he adds.
In this piece, which is called American Woman, Pink Flag (a nod, he acknowledges, to Wire's seminal album Pink Flag), Wonder Woman is based on a photograph of COOP's girlfriend. The background, he says is based on a photograph of a flag painting by Jasper Johns that he turned into a halftone. He handpainted the dots resulting from the halftone.
“I'm trying to represent the things that I'm into and all of these things are important to me,” he says.
COOP is a longtime record collector with punk rock leanings. This has certainly crept into his latest show. One painting of a witch was inspired in part by the Pixies song “Is She Weird?” and in part by the legendary pulp magazine Weird Tales.
Pulp fiction magazines factor into more than one of COOP's pieces for “Idle Hands.” His painting of a sexy female robot fighting off a creature is inspired by a cover for Startling Stories.
“It was a painting of a robot and a sort of damsel in distress and the robot is fighting this dragon creature. I loved the composition of it and everything, but it was very typical of that era, that sort of masculine figure, in that case a robot,” he says. COOP began sketching his own version of the cover just for fun.
“So I turned the robot into a female robot and made the dragon a little more phallic,” he says.
The halftone painting on the final version of the piece originates from the magazines cover.
“I really like when you look at old punk zines and flyers they would take a photo out of the newspaper and cut it out and xerox it a dozen times and so the halftone dots would get blotchy and broken up and they would bleed together,” COOP explains. “That was kind of my inspiration for hand-painting the half-tone dots.”
He continues, “To try by hand to recreate something that's a mechanical process, I think is sort of interesting to look at.”
The halftone elements also allow COOP to incorporate what he likes about abstract painting into his work.
“I am a figurative painter, so one of the things that I was trying to find was to take something figurative or representational and make it abstract,” he says. “That was sort of a breakthrough for me in a way to do that because it functions on two levels, you can see a representational image but the closer you get to the painting the more it blows apart and becomes just an interesting play of colors and texture.”
He adds, “One of my goals is to make something where if you get back at a distance and look at the composition, there's sort of a narrative and there's something going on, but the closer you get to it, the more it becomes about the color and texture and the way the elements are balanced without having any sort of representational message behind them.”
Like his 2004 show, COOP's latest effort coincides with a car project. This one, though, is just in its beginning stages.
“I did a trade with a friend of mine,” he says. “I'm trading him art for a 46 Ford sedan.”
The new project will combine his love of cars with his work as an artist.
“My goal is to have a car and everything on it I traded a painting or a drawing for it,” he says. “It's almost kind of a conceptual art project in a way.”
“Idle Hands” opens Friday night at Corey Helford Gallery.
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