Breaking out of her old way of thinking
Emma Sloan Cooper takes an immediate approach to her artwork. Rather than focus on the end product, she paints in the moment.
It's a fitting technique for the aptly named NOW Contemporary, an exhibition in Casemates featuring ten Bermudian artists.
“The way I approach art is very non-literal, non-linear,” she said.
“It makes sense for where I am in my life that what appeals to me is to un-focus the mind. It's a challenging style of art, because it's very different from the way we approach a lot of other things in life.
“You think of an outcome, and then you take the steps towards realising it — that's the way I was taught to approach the artistic process in college.
“But I am much more interested in being in the present moment.”
She said it's a reflection of what's going on in her life.
The yoga instructor lives with her husband, James Cooper, a fellow artist and the director of the project, and their twin sons.
“I am really inspired by my husband and his work and philosophy,” she said.
“When we talk about making art, he says, ‘I'm not trying to tell you something with my work, but come and be in the space with it and let it bring something out of you'.
“I don't think I would be at this point with my art without his influence. I'm a creative person; I was always good at art at school and took it as a subject in college, but by nature I am a lot more controlling and precise.
“Living and working with James, I'm inspired to break away from my old way of thinking.”
Mrs Sloan Cooper has painted several murals over the past two years. One set, at the request of the Corporation of Hamilton, is displayed on Till's Hill.
Her offering for the site-specific show at Casemates is a large graphic painting on plywood, inspired by street art she saw online. “I loved this very graphic bold image and wanted to translate that same visual language into something recognisable in my life,” she said.
“Another idea I am working on is an installation, which will appear in a few rooms throughout the exhibit, called Passing Over. It will be created using found objects and spilt paint.”
She will continue adding to the show until it is taken down in May. The 37-year-old said her process helps her discover more about herself.
“It means you are dealing with a type of art that is a lot less tangible,” she said. “It may come from feelings, memories ... things that are more abstract.
“Sometimes there is a long process of thought before I start, but even then it's a string of very loose and rambling ideas that somehow just flow in and out of one another.
“Sometimes I might come to a board and just begin putting something down, and then the art just starts realising itself as it is happening.”
She said that though her works for NOW deal with the theme of mortality, she didn't set out to create that.
“It makes sense when I stand back from the work, because that is a theme that I am dealing with in my life at the moment, and even if I am choosing to work from a more subconscious place, that is what is going to come out of me.”
Her “coming out” as an artist was in 2016. Her husband and his friend, Russell DeMoura, collaborated for the 2014 Bermuda Biennial at the Bermuda National Gallery. She was roped in to help construct the final piece, then encouraged to submit her own work. She was accepted in 2016 for a proposal for Emma's Cloak, a textile work.
She said this show is an exciting opportunity for expression.
“When you make art for sale, it changes what you make,” she said. “When you make art for the Bermuda National Gallery, it changes what you make.
“I think both of those things are vital blood supply for the arts in Bermuda, but this show adds another dimension, where we can be more playful and experimental. It's exciting. It's fun. I'm looking forward to the creativity it brings from the artists involved and from everyone who comes to visit.
“At college some of my favourite artists were my peers. I think that it's quite natural and telling of our desire to connect and bond with people.”
Her work however, isn't what defines her life. “I feel really free and playful with my art,” she said. “Why not be? Life is brief and momentary.
“At some level we all have a desire to communicate. You might experience trauma and want to create from that; you might be angry and want to create from that; you might have something very specific to say and that becomes the desire that drives your work. “My work at the moment just happens to be communicating from a quieter, more subtle level.”
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NOW Contemporary was dreamt up by James Cooper after noting the lack of non-traditional exhibition spaces on the island.
The artist has exhibited throughout the Caribbean and the US.
He cited Trinidad’s Alice Yard, Nassau’s POPOp studio and Kingston’s New Local space as having a big influence to give a platform for “underrepresented” artworks and noted that their history shares similarities to Bermuda’s with “scenic tourist art” dominating the scene.
He said: “One thing I had been struck by was how artists in other islands, namely Jamaica, Trinidad and Bahamas had created their own dynamic spaces to promote contemporary art.
“The larger traditional galleries and institutions weren’t really tuned in to newer interpretations of society, so it was groups of artists who took matters into their own hands and started creating the support structure their brand of art needed.”
Looking to “activate unused, underused and unusual locations” he chose the Ordnance Building at Casemates, provided by The National Museum of Bermuda.
The show will highlight the practices of ten Bermudian artists “working outside conventional artistic frameworks to give a picture of our present day Bermudian culture”.
He hopes the space will also create a “cohesive art community” and “foster connections” outside of Bermuda.
“It’s not political, there is no big agenda,” he said.
“We want to expose more people to the possibilities of art while giving artists the freedom to expand their practices into new areas.
“We have a strong and interesting visual language emerging in Bermuda — it can grow and spread in interesting ways if given a bit of love and attention.”
NOW will run from March 16 to May 16