Eileen Cooper’s ‘Swan’ and The Narratives of Feminine Experience
Working as much from her imagination as from life, Eileen Cooper’s paintings tread the line between dream and reality. Many of her paintings, labeled by Cooper as semi-autobiographical, explore themes of motherhood, femininity and the relationship with the self. Against backdrops of private spaces such as bedrooms or dressing rooms, Cooper’s recent paintings allow the protagonist to explore intimate thoughts, desires and insecurities. The interior spaces suggest a freedom of expression and quest for self knowledge. Many of Coopers paintings in recent years have featured an artist in her studio, alongside the repetition of the mirror as a motif, drawing up associations with Jacques Lacan’s ‘mirror stage’, and the formation of a physical representation of ones interior, mental world. Cooper’s paintings provide insight into self reflection and conjure up conversations around femininity, motherhood and creativity.
Cooper’s painting, Swan (2012), explores intimate pastimes. The painting pictures a woman sat crossed-legged on the floor, holding her hands in shapes in front of her which cast the shadow of a swan onto the wall beside her. The figure’s shadow, painted in a vibrant blue, seems to be somewhat obscure, lying flatly across both the wall and the floor. The woman floats in a disoriented reference to a seemingly shallow space, which seems neither physical nor mental.
Upon discussing the inspirations for her paintings, Cooper credits ‘mythologies, fairytales and bible stories’. Traditionally used in ancient folk-tales, shadow puppets, which featured in a number of Cooper’s paintings, can be read, like many fairytales, as either sinister or innocently childlike. Appearing as a shadow puppet, the swan is transformed here into a symbol, the shape choreographed into a narrative of purity, love and motherhood. Here, the shadow puppet is both a reference to mythology and other modes of story telling and also Cooper’s exploration of intimacy and shared experience.
Discussing the figures in her works, Cooper explains she is ‘not too worried about likeness’ when painting from a model, as her works are not about a specific person but a universal female experience. Coopers naive style of painting – her use of bold, flat colours and shapes – deepens the associations with fairytales and folklore. Residing in the realm of the uncanny, her paintings typically dance delicately between dream and reality.