By Franklin Abbott
Atlanta artist Don Cooper grew up in rural Georgia. There were no museums and no art programs in the school. His mother was a self taught artist who encouraged her son in his passion for “making things.” He was a good enough student whose teachers often remarked in the comments section on his report card, “too distracted – not making use of time.” Cooper was distracted but all the while making things in his imagination. When his freshman college roommate turned out to be an art student, Cooper was drawn to studying art. At the University of Georgia in the ’60’s that meant training in a radical program called Art in the Dark.
This experimental approach was based in expanding the range of perception. Cooper describes the perception stretching exercises as ‘weird but enticing.” The exercises were designed to “open our eyes and minds to absorb what was there, to really see it.” Not being a trained artist helped Cooper take full advantage of a program that did not focus on sketching and other traditional techniques. It also helped Cooper understand reconnaissance techniques during his service in Vietnam. They were based on the same model of hyper perception.
“Fire Within” is the name of Cooper’s new show at Sandler Hudson Gallery. This series of paintings is the culmination of years of study of the triangle as a fire symbol. Inspired by the sadhu’s of India and the place of the triangle in Asian art, Cooper’s fire triangles burn hot and cold. Some pulse energy and others create a sense of stillness and silence. His images are evocative of all kinds of feelings that differ from one viewer and the next.
Cooper has painted in other styles and themes. While on a Fulbright grant to Scotland he painted portraits and flowers. After travels in Asia he painted Buddhist imagery. His last series before “Fire Within” was based on the Vedic concept of “bindu,” the dot in the middle of the cosmic circle “where the heart beats, where everything begins and ends.” He sees himself as a symbol painter beginning with the lotus and moving through the vortex and the circle to his current series of fire triangles.
As a working artist, Cooper has lived in and showed work in New York and taught art at West Georgia College and the Atlanta College of Art. He has done public commissions including one at the Atlanta airport that took him to a glass factory in Venice for production. But mostly Cooper works in his home studio where his days begin and end with his art and where ample solitude allows him to spend hours painting or in his garden.
One of the classes Cooper taught in art school was on the business of art. He says when he was in art school the topic was taboo. Artists were not supposed to think of less lofty pursuits like making a living. He taught his students, “you have to be as creative with your life choices as you do with your art making.” He has followed his own advice, “the less I had to work to make money the more time I have to make art.” And so he does. His kitchen opens onto his studio where he can make his meals and drink his tea where he sketches and paints the symbols that animate his work.
“Fire Within” opens Friday, March 11, with a reception from 7-9 p.m. at Sandler Hudson Gallery, 1000Marietta St. NW, Suite 116. The show continues through May 7. For more information visit ?doncooperpaintings.com?.
?Franklin Abbott is an Atlanta psychotherapist and consultant, writer and community organizer. ?