“Have we lost this sense of the metaphysical in nature, the numinous? Is it a risk in fact, to turn our backs on the wild places which feed our spiritual selves? By setting up our lives in a prosthetic, man-made world have we actually endangered ourselves?” Lucy Jones Losing Eden
In her first London solo exhibition Emma Coop presents imposing large-scale graphite drawings that suggest a close sustained scrutiny of ambiguous areas of dense foliage and undergrowth. Heavily layered scrawls, delicate light touches multiply and coalesce across vast sheets of paper with an intensity that indicate lengthy duration of mark-making.
Coop states how her drawings “document the desire to escape edges, things and constructs.” However, in avoiding “the daily, conscious and confined” this is not a romantic escape to the country but something of the opposite. Growing up in inner-city Manchester, Coop developed an instinctive curiosity for an enchanted idea of ‘nature’, although she soon came to understand how experiencing a natural environment is something to be sought on one’s own terms.
All the works in this exhibition are the result of interactions with landscape within one mile of Coop’s home in South East London. In this respect there is a correspondence with forms of nature writing, like Richard Mabey’s The Unofficial Countryside, emphasising the existence of a natural world closer to hand than we might think. A second group of drawings depict re-imagined street scenes proposing some relief from all that is human-made. Densely layered graphite obscures traces of urbanity on a series of photographs, offering the viewer an alternative version of a ‘locality’ made distinct by the competing contrast of nature nestling within the urban.
There is nothing precious about Coop's landscapes and her work contains a multitude of gestures and emotions driven by an inherent restlessness. There is also a tenacity of observation, akin to Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1966 thriller Blow Up also set in South East London. In the film’s narrative and cinematography, a roving camera and protagonist’s eye scans over rustling leaves of an urban park building up as it does so towards a suspense generated out of apparently nothing. Containing suggestions of past visitors and opportunities to engage in the illicit, Coop shows us landscapes as places in which things, both playful and dark, are to be discovered.
Coop’s drawings remind us that like the production of art, an intimacy with nature is a complex relationship of tensions often born, not out of certainty but, of desire. The titles of her works hint at landscape treated as a lover who brings both pleasure and doubt. And, it is through this metaphor of a love affair that Coop draws attention to a collective responsibility in an Anthropocene age: the recognition of our role in creating a relationship with sometimes toxic dynamics.
Emma Coop lives and works in London. Born in 1976, Manchester, she undertook her BA in Interactive Arts at MMU before going on to complete a PG Dip and MA in Fine Art at Chelsea College of Art. Recent exhibitions include: Creekside Open 2019, Wales Contemporary 2020, Expanded Drawing—Air Gallery 2020 and 168th RWA Open 2021. Her work is held in private collections in UK, France, Germany and USA. I LIVE ANOTHER LIFE is her first solo show in London.