Laura Cooper is perhaps best known for her handmade ceramics, but her elemental ethos expands beyond her work in clay into a sculptural idiom pairing it with stone, branches, roots, flowers, stainless steel, silk, textiles, water, paper, glue, and collected spider webs. Fascinated by and operating in concert with natural forms and materials, Cooper draws, sculpts, paints, sews, encases, and glues, cultivating hybrid forms that are partly the expressions of transformative creation, and partly the enduring literal presence of the organic world. Her rustic, elevated aesthetic is both lyrical and engaged with the destruction faced by the environment, merging the living, the dead, and the eternal into painstaking, delicate objects. Her current exhibition is on view at RDFA in West Adams through March 18, featuring works made within a durational dialog with a plant from her garden and a compact edition of the Oxford English Dictionary.
L.A. WEEKLY: When did you first know you were an artist?
LAURA COOPER: I had an inordinate need to express myself, as I had feelings that were so much bigger than I had words for. I still do. I have memories of making at the age of 5—elaborate paper dolls and forts, and many a garden tableau. Miniature worlds.
What is your short answer to people who ask what your work is about?
Ha! Short answers are a challenge. My work is concerned with the translation of information observed and felt in the natural environment, with the aim to be essential rather than pictorial—I hope for a form which relates to a life force on all scales. Organic webs or matrixes are related to exchanges of non-verbal information. Think neural synapses, mycelium and tree roots, cosmic webs, rivers and tributaries—the form of flow and exchange of material or information. There is a lot of love in the process.
What would you be doing if you weren’t an artist?
I have worked in other creative fields to sustain my ongoing work, but I couldn’t not be an artist. Making is my sustenance, even if it means making till midnight after a long office day.
Did you go to art school? Why/Why not?
I got my BA from UCSD, and went to CalArts for grad school.
Why do you live and work in L.A., and not elsewhere?
I love my neighborhood, where I have lived in the same house for 34 years, married to artist Nick Taggart, and raising our daughter. The pockets of green canyons so close to the city, the last tiny bits of persistent native plant communities—side by side with the city which I also love.
When was your first show?
First significant post-MFA solo show was at Sue Spaid Fine Art in 1992.
When is/was your current/most recent/next show or project?
I currently have a solo show at RDFA, running through March 18th. Interestingly I showed at Rory’s “Tri” apartment gallery in 1993—so this is a 30-year loop with RDFA and Rory Devine! [NB: There’s an avant-garde jazz performance at the gallery the afternoon of Saturday, March 4.]
What artist living or dead would you most like to show or work with?
How do I pick one?! These are folks I would love to show with (the short list): Coleen Sterritt, Arlene Schecket, Julia Couzens, Ruth Asawa, Agnes Pelton, Hilma af Klint, Annie Albers,Terry Winters, and Nick Taggart.
Do you listen to music while you work? If so, what?
I listen to Brian Eno, Harold Budd, Arooj Aftab, and Sarah Davachi . When working at the wheel, this ambient music really helps me slow down and get to the mind state I need for throwing larger bowls. When working on my paper and plant sculptures, which are a much longer task, I usually listen to books, mainly speculative fiction—favorites are NK Jemisin, Octavia Butler, and Ursula K. Leguin. Non-fiction tends to be about ecologies, or the cosmos.
Website and social media handles, please!
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