Billy Shire Fine Arts is playing host to a preview of Dave Cooper’s appropriately
titled “Observations on the Soft Underbellies of Mostly Pillowy Girls,” and I
sneak in with three friends. Mere moments after we get inside, we four supposed
adults — whose respective ages begin with a numeric succession that reads like
a kindergarten counting chart: 3-, 4-, 5-, 6- — scamper around the gallery like
giddy children hopped up on Pop Rocks and air hockey, riding our instant Cooper
high long and hard, topping it off with a few heavy-handed cosmopolitans and a
still-unidentified but magnificent soft cheese. Billy Shire knows how to host
a press preview, and I’ve got the stolen stemware to prove it (thanks, Billy).
Dave Cooper loves to draw women — women with buckteeth, protruding gum lines and other periodontal oddities; women with acne scars, cellulite, tan lines, black nipples, bald pussies and dazzling wide smiles.There is an innocence, a sweetness to Cooper’s masterfully crafted perversions — fantasies of lumpy, bumpy and otherwise typically unbeautiful women, whimsically drawn in strange and erotic scenarios. The renderings are celebratory, breaking the mold of humdrum erotica with its outdated standardized ideals of beauty and proportion.My artist friend Michael ambles over to Cooper to strike up a serious artist-to-artist chat. “Hi. Are you Dave? I’m Michael. I grew up in Winnipeg, but I was conceived in Ottawa.”Attempting to balance my time between the canvases and the bar, I take a stab at deciphering what is arguably Cooper’s most disturbing drawing, Cycle, in which fair-haired, full-breasted girls spring forth from trees only to skip naively into a ­neighboring forest where they are eaten by dark-haired, none-too-pillowy cannibal girls with spiky teeth and perky nipples. The flesh-eating meanies then poop out the remains, which alternately re-seed the earth with new cannibals and release the spirits of the fair-haired fatties back up into the trees, from which they grow again. I wonder if Cooper isn’t going for some kind of happy, albeit absurd, medium between Creationists and Darwinists. I can see him, goateed and somewhat out of place in a classroom full of tiny Christian ­fundamentalists with their Peter Pan collars, their Bibles and their burgeoning superiority, teaching the young Republicans-to-be that blonds grow on trees and that brunettes are pooped out of other brunettes. I can’t help but laugh, which I can only assume is the point.“It’s really remarkable to see a show that has such an uplifting effect. I mean, really, I feel like I’m high,” says Michael, lounging on plastic patio furniture out on the ivy-backed courtyard.“You are high,” quips my friend Liz.“And drunk,” offers another friend, Ole.Back inside the gallery, I devour the canvases, attempting to burn each and every image into my already overdrawn memory bank. Women, quite literally, suck face in Cooper’s Study for “They Like Gums.” A little girl with huge teeth is balancing horizontally by biting onto a tree branch in Hanging On. I take in the consistently muted palettes, the dimpled thighs and the strange foliage, and I curse the sea of red dots staggered between the paintings, mocking me.Blown away, I catch up with Michael once again talking Cooper’s ear off as I round up the troops to head out in time to make our dinner reservation. Unable to think of anything meaningful to ask or anything interesting to say, I gush all over Cooper’s sensible shoes as he pulls photos of his wife and son out of his wallet for us to see.We huddle around the snapshots and note that Cooper’s wife looks suspiciously like one of the more goth pillowy girls in his Foreshortening painting.I gesture to Cycle, as we move to leave: “Is that where you think babies come from?” I ask the artist.“Don’t they?” he replies.

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