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Jessica Copping

Jessica Copping

I was immediately taken by Glasgow-based artist Jessica Copping's unusual support shapes, and as we've chatted about her process, I've learned that every action she takes has a reason or meaning. Moving into abstraction after working previously in a very representational style, she shares how the idea of the Anthropocene is influencing her work, and how science and mathematics have a role to play too!

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First, tell me a bit about you! Where are you from originally, and where are you based now?

I’m originally from Norwich, in the East of England, where I gained my BA (HONS) in Fine Art from Norwich University of the Arts and lived until 2015 when I relocated to Glasgow to study for my Masters at Glasgow School of Art.  I currently live in Glasgow.

What first interested you in art-making?

Art-making is an intrinsic part of who I am. For as long as I can remember I have had an aptitude for image making and have been happiest when creating art. I was aware from an early age that I had a talent for translating what I saw into detailed and realistic images. But it was during my GCSE art classes that I discovered the possibilities of paint, especially oil and I was hooked! It was at this time I decided I wanted to continue to study painting and making art for the rest of my life.

Many of your supports are not rectangular, especially recently, and have become geometric or rounded. Can you explain a little about how you began working with different shaped canvases this way?

It was an organic decision, which started by rounding the edges of the boards I was working on to form portals into the psychological landscapes I was creating at the time as a way to draw the viewer into the world I had created. This process developed into using the shapes to symbolise meaning and accentuate aspects of the composition. For example I have shaped boards which mirror the shapes of windows, buildings and architectural features found in the paintings imagery to create an uncanny experience where the viewer oscillates between the materiality of the shape and the vivid reality of the painted space.

It is important to me that every aspect of my paintings extends meaning, from the shape, materials, marks and imagery. For example the paintings from my recent body of work ‘The Shape of Things to Come’ are dodecagon shaped. I repeated the shape in the imagery of the paintings as well as the boards themselves to form a constellation of interconnected paintings which alludes to the repetition of organic structures and human behaviours on amicro and macro scale in nature and culture. It also references a study into density fluctuations in the microwave radiation echo left over from the big bang which theorizes that the universe is finite and shaped like a dodecahedron (related to dodecagons by being a 12-faced polyhedron). In this project I therefore used the shape to create portals, voids and an overarching narrative.

Your practice delves into the psychological and physical impacts of human actions on the earth, which reflects in both nature and back on ourselves. Can you elaborate on this?

More than ever we are at a point in human history where we are able to glimpse into the future and understand the consequences of humanities impact on the biosphere. My work studies this impact through the psychological effects on people (Solastaglia) and the physical effects on the planet (climate change) of the proposed current epoch of geological time, the Anthropocene, which is defined by humanity's long-term impact on the strata record through our powerful influence on the environments, climate and ecology of the planet. I seek to examine the forms of apathy and consumption directed towards the Earth and investigate the complexities of time, perception and nature within the context of the Anthropocene and deep time.

My recent work articulates an epoch spanning worldview that combines damage from an unknown cataclysm with humanity’s fading presence and enduring elements from nature. The work asks if we are in a period of time where humanity has caused long-term damage to the Earth, what could the next epoch of time look like if it was a world beyond humankind. By reflecting upon the millennia-long, rich history of anthropogenic changes I aimed to question how long man will live in respect to deep time and to comment on the culpability of our actions against the environment for humans now and humans to come, suggesting that the way we live, what we leave behind and the kind of ecological disasters we produce are all part of the same topic.

What is your process like?

I create constellations of small shaped paintings constructed from layers of oil paint, egg tempera and graphite on gesso primed boards which are partially eroded through the use of sandpaper and engraving tools. This process is a combination of spontaneous mark making and considered detail which within the context of my subject signifies the excavation of layers of earth and time, revealing lost narratives and social collapse on a planet where everything is interconnected and constantly changing.

I begin my paintings by building up layers of paint. I build up each piece over time by layering and erasing. For me painting means an endless journey of experimentation and discovery. With my egg tempera pieces once I have built up the layers of paint each piece can progress differently; I can either sand backwards and forwards to reveal marks and colours, signifying nuclear horizons or I discover ghosts in the flames within the sanded marks which develop into landscapes and abstract forms or I start drawing into the top layer with a composition in mind. There is an element of chance and organic growth to my process, some pieces I can finish in a day others can take much longer. In comparison my oil paintings can take months to finish, as I build up many glazes of paint over time.   

What is your studio like?

My studio is a bright and airy space at Crownpoint Studios in the East End of Glasgow.  

Do you have any routines or rituals that get you in the best mode for creating?

I will spend a bit of time going over my research and sketchbooks, handing materials and making marks to focus before settling into making. Once I start making, I become completely absorbed and will work without interruptions for as long as I can. I prefer to listen to music when working. 

What is your favorite thing about your medium? What challenges you about it?

My favourite thing about my medium and process is the endless possibilities of layering, excavating and addition which makes each piece I create unique, surprising and allows my practice to constantly evolve new techniques and processes.

A recent challenge has been to deconstruct my practice of creating hyper-real oil paintings and to invent a new painterly language to express my ideas in a more unorthodox, immersive and existential way.

What has your art education been like, whether informally or formally? Any positive or negative experiences that helped shape how you approach your practice?

I’ve had some wonderful tutors throughout my art education. Throughout my BA I was instructed by three excellent painters who taught me about supports, grounds, mediums as well as different types of paints and painting techniques. Over the course of my BA my work became smaller and more intricate resulting in the miniature hyper-real internal landscapes of my degree show. My work was linked to the romantic tradition by combining the human figure or our presence with elements from nature to comment on our interactions with the environment and to symbolically allude to the dynamics of human nature.

I continued to work in this way for a few years but I felt that my work needed to be injected with a new approach and new ideas so I decided to go do an MA at Glasgow School of Art. Over the course of the year my tutors encouraged me to work quicker and to push the boundaries of my practice to create more economical paintings. I was also encouraged to use space more, both within the paintings themselves and when exhibiting to create installations for my paintings to constellate in.

What do you consider the most challenging part of pursuing your practice, whether creatively or professionally?

Not having enough time! I am committed to my practice, and when I can’t get to the studio, I read, sketch and scribble down ideas, but at the moment the challenge is definitely balancing different commitments so I’ve got time to focus on making new work.

What is the best piece of advice you've received so far?

To trust the process of making more and to become a more economical painter by allowing hyper-real detail more space.

This advice led me on a path to combine minimalism with hyper-real detail to see what conversations I could generate between paintings, creating an oscillation between painting as image and as a material process. For example my more abstract and reductive boards speak of a time before and beyond humanity, so its logical that an image from the perspective of natural forces would be free from detail alluding to nuclear horizons, solar winds and a flooded planet. To fully experience the sublime you need to dissolve yourself entirely, my solution is to ‘dissolve’ humanities occupation of the planet via the combination of abstraction and detail.

What are you working on right now?

I am currently working on a few projects. The first is for ‘Creative Reactions’ a project, which pairs scientists at the University of Glasgow with artists who react to their research. My scientist’s research studies the stored climate information from past epochs in fossilised algae called Haptophytes, this allows him to study past climates in areas effected by climate change in the present to better understand what we can expect in the future from climate change. I am creating an epoch-spanning triptych for the project, which is concerned with the changing climate in Saskatchewan (Canada) where my scientist is currently focusing his research.

I am also working on a yearlong project (working title: Retain for Refund) of drawn and painted responses to nature and culture in the Anthropocene as it continues to unfold on receipts. This is an attempt to ground a deep-time concept in everyday consumption and waste. The receipts will be my own, collected from my purchases made throughout the year. Using receipts references the fact that the further we go into the Anthropocene, the less likely we can undo or ‘refund’ the changes we are making to the planet. The concept of the Anthropocene puts recent history and current events in a deep-time perspective.

The body of work is intended to record ecological time as it unfolds in order to investigate the social and political structures of the Anthropocene. The imagery mainly references news articles published this year, creating visual markers which document evidence of our impact of the Earth as it unfolds. This is work rooted in the present however the imagery so far appears located out of time. A mysterious tower could be pure SF speculation but is actually depicting a building in Beijing which can remove the smog from the atmosphere and transform it into jewellery. By mapping real time, the drawings will grow and mutate in response to events as they unfold, exploring new solutions and technologies as well as highlighting that whilst the Anthropocene is accelerating, geological change is occurring faster than natural resources can replenish and people and animals can adapt. This project will therefore reflect upon the risks and possibilities associated with the advent and expansion of the Anthropocene.

Find more at jessicacopping.com and on Instagram @jcoppingartist!

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