Prints from under the bed
Top: Jocelyn Cooper, Is it Possible?, c1990s, woodcut on Japanese washi, 75 x 50 cm
Right: Untitled, c1990s, woodcut on Japanese washi, 40 x 52 cm
Below: From the Sublime to Blisters, c1990s, woodcut on Japanese washi, hand-coloured, 63 x 50 cm
all Copyright Jocelyn Cooper 2017
John Hinds writes about a folio of work by a prolific, yet little-known Tasmanian artist, Jocelyn Cooper. The work was recently found under a mattress, and rescued from obscurity.
Hobart artist Jocelyn Cooper (born 1941) has now been living with Alzheimer’s for seven years, and her two caring sisters rescued these forgotten woodblock prints, and arranged a timely retrospective at the Firestation Print Studio in September, while the artist was still able to appreciate the long overdue recognition.
Why have we never heard of Jocelyn Cooper?
Her extensive CV is impressive, and her inventive practise covers over 35 years, of painting, ceramics and puppetry, as well as printmaking? Her list of talents includes professional musician (pipe organ, bassoon), teacher, mother, feminist, nature lover, and a person of deep religious conviction. Her work deserves to be better known.
Jocelyn has never been ambitious, despite her abundant talents, nor one to conform to other’s expectations – she has truly followed her own unique path! It is rare to discover such an artist, so obviously individual, with such a strong technique and voice. This retrospective has been a revelation to all, and a reassurance that great artworks can have an ongoing life of their own.
The Woodblock Prints.
During the 1990s, no piece of discarded wood was considered safe from Jocelyn’s chisels! Consequently the size, format and texture of the blocks varies greatly. This variety, along with a vigorous and direct cutting technique, hand colouring or overdrawing makes each print unique.
With her small edition monochrome prints, Jocelyn’s paper of choice is almost always a variety of pale Japanese Washi, but there are colours too. When hand printed with a spoon, darker figures are often defined on the paler textured background. A few larger works were printed on a borrowed press. Although black is the default ink colour, she used whatever was to hand. With Jocelyn, there are no fixed rules!
The human subject however is all important, singly, paired or in groups. People use their hands to touch, embrace, knit or play a musical instrument. Her always expressive figures are whimsically distorted, or elongated with exaggerated faces, yet retain evidence of her life drawing skills. Prints often make a direct political or religious point.
Some softer landscape images of Maria Island, her beloved natural retreat, are the exception.
Apart from the monochromes, the exhibition included smaller abstract coloured prints, with evidence of a more complex and experimental technique. Up to 20 harmonious colours can be counted in transparent layers, giving wonderfully opalescent effects.
Despite no longer printing, Jocelyn is still a prolific abstract oil painter, often using found natural pigments. Thankfully, she was able to attend this opening, and to join in, and fully appreciate the love, admiration and goodwill which surrounded her.
This text is based on the opening address by Jocelyn’s sister Surmani Rose, at the Firestation Print Studio, Wed 20th September 2017. Thanks also to Rhondda Curtis (sister), Firestation member Kathleen Munson, and Manager Edith May.