Artists on Coping: Ashley Norwood Cooper

During the Coronavirus pandemic, Art Spiel is reaching out to artists to learn how they are coping.

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Easter Eggs, 2020, oil on linen, 80” x 72”

Ashley Norwood Cooper’s paintings are intensely colored, painterly figurative work, exploring the creative lives of women, the awkwardness of family relationships, and the schizophrenic role of the artist-mother-wife teacher. She has exhibited in solo and group exhibits throughout the US including First Street Gallery (NYC) and ZINC contemporary (Seattle). Her work has been featured in New American Paintings and on the I Like Your Work Podcast. Her recent debut at VOLTA NYC 2020 garnered write ups in the NY Times and Arcade Projects Zine (Columbia University).

AS: How are you coping?

ANC: I paint to cope. Maybe if I had an easy time dealing with life, I would never have become an artist. There is so much uncertainty and there are so many people I worry about. My husband is a doctor who is working with COVID patients. My son is missing the end of his senior year in high school. My other two children are home and bored. The dog has started peeing on the living room rug. Everyone is freaking out.

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Plaid Sofa, 2020, oil on panel, 48” x 60”.

AS: Has your routine changed?

ANC: I panic. I paint. I teach my classes online. I do dishes (lots and lots of dishes). Then, I panic again.

I sit in the dining room teaching, online, while my husband sits in the kitchen attending to hospital business, online. My children are upstairs doing their homework, online. They have the worst taste in music, and they play it loud. I have great taste in music. I play it in my studio. I sing loud. I am a rock star. I fling paint. Life is great, then I come crashing down again.

The world is ending, but only if I stop painting.

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Woke, 2019, oil on panel, 36” x 48”.

AS: Can you describe some of your feelings about all this?

ANC: When I meditate, I have learned that when I stop grasping for it to be over, it will be over. I tell myself this is true of this crisis as well. If I can just settle into the routine. Learn to appreciate what I have, it will end.

A friend says that this time is like the Phoenix dying and that we have to be ready when the Phoenix rises again. My thought is that the Phoenix dying isn’t an illusion. She really dies. Things are really dying now: innocent people, of course, businesses, jobs, livelihoods, art galleries. Whole ways of thinking will die. When the Phoenix is reborn, it will be a different Phoenix. People are trapped at home right now watching their worlds fall apart. Some artists are able to work quietly at home. It’s uncomfortable, hard to keep going, and the work comes in fits and starts. But often when you are uncomfortable in your creative work it’s a good sign. I have no doubt that there are people in their bathrobes right now settling into the pain of the moment, letting themselves go down with the Phoenix and somehow survive.

It can be argued, and frequently has been, that painting itself is a nostalgic art form. I don’t disagree, but I think its strength, its pertinence today, lies in how it challenges the givens of the present. Painting raises the analogue over the digital, the irrational truths over the statistically measurable ones. It contrasts the life of the artist as solitary eccentric against the popular obsession with the artist as celebrity. To me, being a painter, today, is about choosing the tactile, oozing, mess over the hologram. That is what my art practice has been about.

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Chopping Onions, 2019, oil on panel, 20” x 16”.

AS: What matters most right now?

ANC: Home has become very important to me. Domestic subject matter has dominated my work since the beginning. When I was younger, I felt insecure about that. Was I unliberated? Too bourgeois? I have pretty much just two things in my life, art and family. I don’t have room for more. No doubt there are times when my art was overlooked or rejected because of its subject matter.

I have become over the years more comfortable with who I am and that what matters to me is a valid subject for art. But now, home seems, for the time, all we have. We have retreated to these shelters. Our homes are more than trite symbols of comfort. They are spiritual centers. They are microcosms. They are the places where life’s major battles are planned and often fought. Places where tragedies and comedies paly out day and night.

Who do I worry about most in this crisis? Those whose home situations are most perilous—the homeless, those in prison, those who are trapped in domestic violence situations, refugees, people stuck on virus infested cruise ships.

My little family is holed up in our home together. At times it is awful. At other times it is beautiful. As parents of teenagers, we were struggling. This hasn’t solved all those tensions, but it has brought us closer together. At first the kids said, “Hooray, no school.” They went to the basement to play video games. Now they are playing chess, painting, cooking, going on long bike rides. I didn’t have to say anything, it just happened naturally. As they disengaged from a toxic culture, healing occurred.

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The Girl’s Room, 2019, oil on panel, 60” x 48”.

AS: Any thoughts about the road ahead?

ANC: The other book I am reading right now is “Waking the Witch” by Pam Grossmann. Painting is witchcraft. It is a spirituality of the householder. The art of the person who believes, without much proof, that if she mixes these liquids together, if she chooses the right colors, she can mysteriously influence the world around her.

There is no certainty in this time. I am not in charge, and I did not choose those who are, and I have no faith in their judgement. I am in my studio. I am mixing my paints. I am casting my spells.

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Inhale, 2019, oil on pane, 80” x 72”.

All photos courtesy of the artist

Etty Yaniv works on her art, art writing and curatorial projects in Brooklyn. She founded Art Spiel as a platform for highlighting the work of contemporary artists, including art reviews, studio visits, interviews with artists, curators, and gallerists. For more details contact by Email: