When I saw Mark Cooper’s first site-specific installation, “Uncertainty,” in the Roberts Gallery at Lesley University’s College of Art and Design, it made me feel like I fell into a great big box of melted Crayola crayons. The gallery is filled from floor to ceiling with swirls, drips, and splatters of colors accompanied by various sculptural objects and vessels. Some of these objects hover and hang from above while others quietly rest atop shelf-like wooden sculptures that mimic cabinetry and display cases. These various displays of structures are shaped with repetitive curves that resonate on a subconscious level, creating the soothing backdrop for such an explosion of collaborative creativity. Through a collage of varying media, Cooper’s abstract creation consists of materials that would otherwise seem unrelated: rice-paper, fiberglass, wood, paint, digital screens, photography, and last but not least, ceramics.
Mark Cooper is an internationally known artist who grew up in southern Indiana but now lives and works in greater Boston. He first became interested in art when he took a photography and ceramics course while studying business, and then law, as an undergraduate. Art became is passion, and he was invited to work and teach at the Anderson Ranch Art Center in Aspen, Colorado. After only two years of law school, he knew he had to leave the program and cultivate his new artistic dreams until they became a reality. After graduating in 1972 with a Bachelor of Science from Indiana University, he received his Master of Fine Arts in 1980 from The School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Cooper is well known for working with other artists on his large collaborative art projects that involve people from all over the world. He even had a book about that subject published in 2006; it was titled Making Art Together (Beacon Press). Today, when he is not making art, he teaches at Boston College and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University. Through individual pieces, public commissions, collaborative projects, and much more, he continues to mesmerize his audiences.
I’ve witnessed first-hand how Cooper conjures up crazy concoctions in his studio. Friends of mine have worked with him on many different projects and I hear it’s quite an adventure to work with him. But you don’t even have to be in Cooper’s studio to be taken for a ride; I notice pedestrians outside on the sidewalks gravitating towards the Roberts Gallery, going into the Lunder Arts Center just to get a glimpse of the implied chaos. The curious began to smile and converse among themselves while looking through the windows into the gallery. Cooper elaborates, “When you have collage, assemblage installations, it triggers the viewer’s brain in a different way than let’s say, a linear narrative.” The viewer is the active ingredient and participant in his collaborative installations. His intent is to have the audience complete the art piece through their exploration and immersion into the majesty of the unknown, and then re-emerge hopefully feeling more complete as an in individual. He also says, “I hope there’s an element of magic and wonder from the exhibition that is sort of a catalyst for viewers to want to do some interesting things on their own.”
Cooper is fascinated with the act of collecting things. He sees people from all sorts of backgrounds, who have a tendency to decorate or embellish their spaces, and he wonders who they are and why they do this. From collections of art to collections of stamps or comic-books, this exhibition is jam-packed with a collection of supernal oddities. It will leave those who have an obsession with surrounding themselves with things salivating. From viewing from the streets to witnessing within the gallery, you are swept away into another world of collectibles that will satisfy your visual and conceptual curiosities. The colors, shapes, and textures invite the senses to transcend from the pedestrian to the otherworldly.
Mark Cooper is truly a maestro. He shows and shares with us that collaboration as a species is important and essential, and in order for all of us to be creatively constructive, it’s in our nature to rely on one another. His exhibit, “Uncertainty,” is well worth seeing. It will be on display in the Roberts Gallery until April 15th, bringing together and harmonizing not just unrelated materials and artifacts, but also Lesley University’s community and the outside world. Cooper’s achievements have been rewarded through various fellowships and grants over the years, most recently through the Massachusetts Cultural Council. I recommend visiting this show before it disappears. This exhibit’s reflection of the varying cultures that influence his creations – Asian, European, American – will leave a yearning in your heart to go out and conjure up your own crazy concoctions.