Born in 1953 in Glossop, Derbyshire, Eileen Cooper RA is renowned for her figurative painting and printmaking. She attended Goldsmiths College followed by the Royal College of Art. Upon graduating, Cooper became a visiting lecturer at art schools across the UK, including St. Martin’s School of Art, Camberwell School of Art and City and Guilds, London. In 1994, she was elected as a lecturer in Printmaking at her alma mater, the Royal College of Art. Cooper’s first solo exhibition was at AIR Gallery, London in 1979. She has since exhibited her work extensively in galleries in London, Oxford, Prague, Ljubljana and New York.
Cooper has been the recipient of multiple prestigious awards, residencies and commissions, including the ICA’s Staircase Project, the role of Artist in Residence at Dulwich Picture Gallery, Lewisham College. Cooper has been commissioned multiple times to create artwork for the poems of former Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, including the frontispiece for Duffy’s Thrown Voices and the cover for Meeting Midnight.
Cooper was elected as a Royal Academician in 2001 and made Keeper of the Royal Academy between 2011 and 2017, making history as their first ever female Keeper. She has since been made an Honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Art and Murray Edwards College, Cambridge. As a result of her services to Art and Art Education and work supporting emerging artists, Cooper was made an Officer of the British Empire (OBE) in 2016. Cooper’s work is held in many public collections, including but not limited to the collections of the Arts Council, the British Museum, the Royal Academy of Arts, the Victoria and Albert Museum, The Dallas Museum of Art, Yale University and the Royal Collection. Cooper’s Self Portrait with Toys was acquired by Ruth Borchard Collection in 2019.
Cooper’s oeuvre is filled with bold yet tender depictions of the female form. While her work has an autobiographical bent, it aligns itself more closely with the allegorical than the everyday, reaching for the universal through the figurative. Cooper’s poetic, mythic female bodies are a lens through which she explores both personal and psychological notions of space. Cooper cites mythology, fairytales, bible stories, comics and early special effects films as key inspirations for her work.
In Self-Portrait with Toys, Cooper creates a narrative surrounding the toys in the foreground of the watercolour. This nod to her interest in comics and early special effects films adds a playful dimension to the self-portrait while reinforcing the multiple spatial realms at play within the painting.