Ashley Norwood Cooper in Domestic Brutes at Pelham Art Center

In Dialogue with Ashley Norwood Cooper

A picture containing table, sitting, small, little

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”How to Draw Your Shoe”, oil on panel, 36” x 30”, 2020.

Ashley Norwood Cooper is an artist and a mother, raising three teenagers in a small town in upstate NY. Her paintings have always dealt with family and home and how the personal connects us to the global and political. She is interested in the schizophrenic role of the artist-mother-wife-teacher and in how to redefine the heroic from a woman’s perspective. Ashley Norwood Cooper is participating in Domestic Brutes and she will present her work in a virtual studio visit hosted by Pelham Art Center on Thursday, October 15th, 5-6pm.

AS: How do you see your work in context of Domestic Brutes feminist perspective?

ANC:We have been taught that humans create because they were created in the image of a creator God. But in many cultures the creator was a Goddess. This is part of what I was thinking when I painted Triple Spiral. I was thinking of the triple spiral from Celtic cultures and that other trinity of mother maiden crone. Here the old lady chops onions and cries. I think women understand that creation isn’t something you put together quickly, see that it is good and walk away. Like motherhood, art comes through tears and self-doubt. When it is finished, you are dead. You hope it was good enough and that the next generation will find inspiration to build something better from what you left behind.

In my painting the crone cries as she chops onions. The onion slices become three spirals. One of her children is drawing spirals, the other typing on his laptop. The children are creative because the mother was creative. The father’s job is to hold the cat.

A picture containing table, sitting, old, hydrant

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“Triple Spiral”, detail.

AS: Tell me about the work in this show – its genesis and process.

ANC: I paint from only very loose sketches. I never really know how the painting will come out until it is done. I start with a rough sketch that is often, but not always, based on a narrative idea. I think all art is abstract, and all abstraction is abstracted from something. Sometimes it is abstracted from movement, or from observation. In my case, it is really abstracted from narrative. They feed each other — the story is in the abstraction. The painting starts from a thought and then I just go off into color and shape, the weight of the paint, the texture of the surface. At least, that is what I am going for. I think a lot about the surface and the various ways paint mimics and fails to mimic real experience. I like to leave tension between the content and the abstraction and sometimes I find failures more interesting than successes. I see something not working in a way that is perversely pleasing to me and I can’t help but leave it there.

A group of people wearing costumes

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“Triple Spiral”, oil on panel, 60” x 48”, 2020.

AS: How does the work in this show relate to your other work?

ANC: At the same time as I was painting Triple Spiral, I made a lot of images of crying men. The crying men have been inspired partly by my husband’s tears on election night in 2016 and partly by Picasso’s images of Dora Maar. I have been painting men and women crying. I have even painted Bigfoot crying while chopping onions. We are living in a time of tears. There is fear. No one sleeps anymore.

But lately other imagery is creeping into my work. I am painting people planting seeds. There are black swallowtail butterflies. I am making sketches of people climbing ladders, of people waking up. I am starting to make paintings about hope. In fact, I am forcing myself to make paintings about hope. Not because I always feel hopeful but really because I believe in the power of art. Do you remember the little boy on “Mister Rogers” with the magic crayon? His theme song was “You know my name is Simon and the things I draw come true.” I wanted to be that little boy. I was highly impressionable during my PBS afternoons, and I really believed I could grow up to be like Simon. I guess that is what I’m still striving for. I am painting these images of hope in kind of an attempt to do magic, to use art to get to a better place.

A painting of a person

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“Crying Man with Crone and Black Swallowtails”, oil on panel, 16” x 16”, 2020.
A picture containing sitting, table, old, green

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“Starter Seeds”, oil on panel, 20” x 20”, 2020.

AS: How do you hope viewers connect with your work in this show?

ANC: I never know how viewers will connect to my work. People see themselves projected into the work, and not necessarily what I was thinking about, and that is fine.

When I was growing up, I loved to paint and draw, but I thought I was too boring to be an artist. I imagined that I would maybe someday make paintings about Greek Mythology. I thought if I became skilled as an artist, I would be able to borrow content from lives more interesting than my own. But as I painted I realized that the reason my life didn’t seem like the stuff of art, was because I hadn’t made it into art. Then I knew what I had to do: I paint the ordinary stuff of my own life. It no longer seems boring to me, so all I really want is for people to see in my art the mundane made heroic. I want people to see the very ordinary stuff of their own lives, the awkwardness, the quotidian details, and think, yes, this is art, too. I, too, am art.

All photos courtesy of the artist

Domestic Brutes at the Pelham Art Center – September 17th (virtual opening).

Artists: Tirtzah Bassel, Aisha Tandiwe Bell, Ashley Norwood Cooper, Maria de Los Angeles, Nancy Elsamanoudi, Fay Ku, Sharon Madanes, Lacey McKinney, Joiri Minaya, Rose Nestler, Simonette Quamina, Diana Schmertz, Alisa Sikelianos-Carter, Manju Shandler, Melissa Stern; Curated by Christina Massey and Etty Yaniv

Thanks to Audrey Putman for helping with the interview.

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: artspielblog@gmail.comA

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