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VISUAL presents a major solo exhibition of paintings, sculpture and other objects and ephemera by and relating to Irish artist Elizabeth Cope (b.1952).
Cope has been working as a painter for the last 50 years, taking the same representational approach when painting her wide range of subject matter; whether friends, family, animals, landscapes, or pieces of farm machinery. Some are straightforward depictions, but in the majority of her work these subjects and elements combine in a rich, often surrealistic fashion.
Various motifs crop up repeatedly in her work; self-portraits, her husband and children, a dancing lobster, a plastic crab, sweeping brushes, tape measures, frank depictions of the body at various stages of life. These are mixed with surrealist elements and vivid colour schemes.
A key to understanding Cope’s work is the context in which it is made; she identifies her work and its production as inseparable from the rest of her life – helping to run a working farm, raising children, hosting friends and other artists, traveling. It is in the midst of this, what Cope has called the ‘chaos of everyday life’, that her work is produced. Paintings are worked on quickly but fitfully, being completed in short bursts over an extended period of time. Things find their way in and out of the work, and paintings are often cut out and collaged into others.
The works in this exhibition are drawn from throughout Cope’s long career, and are not intended as a retrospective, or as a chronological record. Rather, the exhibition functions as a way of showing the vital and energetic work of an idiosyncratic and contemporary artist who is finding inspiration and challenges in the making of large scale, intricate, layered works. Recurring themes emerge through groupings of work; nudes, portraiture, cut-outs and collage, animals – dead and alive - and repeated examinations of particular poses, individuals, and scenes. A central concern in Cope’s work has been an examination of the self, both as a constantly-available subject, but also as a way of exploring different styles, scales and moods. This is marked in the exhibition in a selection of an ongoing series of self-portraits that range from the early 1970s to the present day – the latest of which is painted directly on the wall of the gallery.
On display in the Studio Gallery is a wide selection from perhaps Cope’s most definitive body of work; the Menopause Series. These are unusual both in her larger body of work and in the context of Irish painting, though fitting into the larger context of the art-historical legacy of painters frankly examining a diverse range of bodies. Some of these, such as Alice Neel, Cope cites as a direct influence. In these works, Cope mixes surrealist elements with frank depictions of childbirth, sex acts and organs, family members, and the detritus of everyday life. Taken individually, these works are shocking, surreal and - a stated intention of the artist –funny. Taken as a total body of work they amount to a record of the changing state of a female body, the sexuality and corporeality of which has historically been denied or ignored. There is a political element, direct or indirect, in taking this subject matter seriously yet lightly.
Cope has taken as her subject matter the things of everyday life, and rather than trying to faithfully depict them – though she can paint extremely accurately if she so chooses – she instead captures the inherent overlapping and abundance of life by mixing things all up together. Humans, animals, domestic interiors, landscapes, household objects. In this openness to different subject matter she brings a democratising eye to things, fulfilling what she describes as her ‘addiction’ to painting.
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