The Nude in the art of Martin Cooper

His nudes are not intended to be solely erotic or sexually charged, his work grows from his fascination for the human body and its physicality. An in depth interview, with the artist Martin Cooper, about his artistic concept, the usage of the Nude in his art, and his unique creation process.

How would you personally describe the nature of your art?
I’d like to think of my work as sensitive, cerebral and particular. It’s taken me years to be comfortable with creating work just for me and No one else. It’s very liberating to live in that mental space. If others find what I’m doing interesting, that a plus. But it’s not the drive behind the work. I’ve often been confronted by people to ‘identify’ the kind of nude that I do. Interestingly, I’ve been told that my work isn’t a nude that appeals to a man. There isn’t enough visual stimulation there for him. It doesn’t touch him in that primal way. Oddly enough, I would agree since 90% of my collectors are women. I like that. And certainly over the years, I’ve taken on private commissions which are usually fun. I like women who like to see themselves [nude]in art. There’s something I find erotic just in that.

What artists, art periods, are an inspiration for your own work? And in what way?
I love so many things. I find periods that were highly stylized, for example Art Deco of the 1930s, very inspiring. It was a time when the world’s stage was very unstable (nearing the outbreak of WWII), but it was also an extremely exciting time to be alive. Technology was booming and there was such a renaissance in art, music, architecture, photography and sculpture. It was probably the last true period that adored and presented the nude form in almost all of these aspects I mentioned above. However, as an artist who works largely in the photographic realm, I’m confronted daily with the reality that my process and materials will not exist in the near future. Within the last year, both my paper and film have been discontinued. As the world goes digital, there’s something very interesting I’m finding about the 19th century, and the alternative processes! I’ll just make my own film…coat my own paper to give value not only to the image, but also to the physical object itself. This is something digital cannot do.

Where are your ideas coming from? Does your work reflect your own erotic fantasies & desires?
I would say that the body is probably the most fascinating subject for me. Not only its physicality, but being open to finding that right person whom you can express the idea through. In the end, it’s about trust. With every series that I’ve done, there is usually one model who emerges out of the pack as the lead inspiration for the series. She has to be open to the process, all the while knowing why she has chosen to stand nude in my studio. I like the concept of knowing that there’s a special person out there trying to find me, just as much as I’m trying to find her! Other than the model herself, I love Maillol sculpture, Art Deco, Gustavian furniture and Alma-Tadema paintings. I think there’s something very special about Odd Nerdrum’s work. Jane Champion’s early films. There’s such poetry in it all. Photography is probably the last that I look at for inspiration. I have not explored erotic fantasies in my work. I personally wish to keep a separation there, but I’m not sure if I would have anything new to contribute to that genre. However, I’m currently working on a series that casts a particular type of model. She must have at least a 0.70 or less ratio between her waist and hip circumstance. This casts a very particular physicality.

It’s been an interesting exercise in meeting women who have never felt good about the fact that they have hips. For whatever reason, they hate the very thing that makes them women. This I find extremely interesting and I spend a lot of time talking with them about it. There is almost always a negative thread that goes directly back to their mother. Ie: Child hears mother saying “God, I hate my shape (hips).” Child looks in mirror and sees her mothers body in her own. So she learns to say I hate mine too! It’s a vicious cycle. Then I come in, and she realizes she’s been playing to the wrong audience all this time. It’s the first time that they have been appreciated specifically for this feature and it can be a very emotional experience. We always video tape these conversations at the studio. One part of this series is making devices that accentuate the pelvis. It’s almost as if I pull the model’s pelvis out of her body, abstract it in a very specific, very beautiful way, and remake it into a device that she can wear. I like the fact that I’ve been able to create something through my work that makes people feel good about themselves in an intimate way, though not sexual. This doesn’t act out my fantasy, but the intimacy of making the device does have an erotic charge to it. It highlights the pelvic area in a way no artist has done. I would guess that wearing this device is an erotic experience for the model, though no model has actually vocalized this. Sometimes there are ‘unsaids’ in a collaboration, and that itself is fuel to keeping the collaboration going. I think some viewers would find the image I have chosen here erotic. But if they don’t, that’s okay too.

What you biggest artistic frustration? Or main struggle in your creation process?
I really don’t have artistic frustrations or struggles in my creative process. My main career is very demanding as a fashion designer. My only frustration is finding the time to devote to my work. I’ve recently moved from New York to London and I look forward to starting the casting process for this new series in Europe.

Is it easy to find places to display your work?
I’ve been privileged to show my work to a wide audience, be it museums or galleries. Bergdorf Goodman, New York’s preeminent luxury goods store, acquired about 12 nudes that are on permanent display in the store. This was wonderful because it broke (or bent) the rule in the States that it is taboo for companies to purchase nudes for their corporate collection.

Is erotic art still somewhat taboo in your country?
I think there is a dark, repressed undercurrent that is in the US when it come to the nude. It is often a tool for the politicians. I find that many can’t differentiate my work from say a Playboy…but culturally Playboy is accepted. So strange!

Can you provide a link to a website that you consider a must, a great place to visit?
Showstudio.comThis is the brainchild of fashion photographer Nick Knight. Although it certainly isn’t new, I find this website fresh and constantly evolving. I especially like the video work in the archives.

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