The Artist

Michael Cooper
Michael Cooper at his Strode Theatre Exhibition

I was born in Hertfordshire in 1941 and lived in a small village near Ware and though in the country we were only a few miles from London and we had an Anti aircraft battery at the end of the road. I suppose my first drawings were at about 4 to 6 years old, pictures of soldiers shooting other soldiers, all along the bottom edge of avery  precious sheet of paper.
Paper being so scarce due to the war I was then encouraged to use the rest of the sheet as well, so I turned the paper round  and round, drawing battle scenes along every edge.Only to be told there was a big blank space in the middle, before I thought of drawing the soldiers shooting up at planes with swastikas on them.I then added English planes with RAF roundels and little pin men airmen parachuting to earth and thus used up the whole valuable sheet.

I received no formal art training after leaving school but it is nice to think that my farming pictures, paintings and limited edition prints have been purchased by collectors throughout the world who have visited my studio gallery at Street in Somerset.                

I actually had netting over my bed as a child in the war in order to catch the ceiling should it come down .Whilst mother and I faced the war, not far from London, father was in RAF in India, where according to his diaries it seems that he spent most of the time in the cinema.               

Banking, Antiques and Childrens Books

After leaving school I had a few years working for a High Street bank where I am afraid my sense of humour and perhaps their lack of one, made the prospect of another forty years plus of service ahead of me  fill me with terror. Had I managed  to stick it I would probably now be an early retired small branch manager with an index linked pension and a house that was bought with a staff housing loan. Silly me?

Always fascinated by the old and antique and the antique dealing crowd from the shops on Holywell Hill in St Albans and their conviviality at The White Hart Inn after work,  I ran from the safe and secure arms of banking in to The London Silver Vaults to spend a few years selling antique silver to the wealthy, famous and infamous from all corners of the world.

Hankering to be my own boss I later had two antique shops of my own.The first in Harpenden and then another, after I married Susan my wife, when we moved to Swanage on The Isle of Purbeck.

One day on the beach playing with my daughter Joanna I was drawing characters in the wet sand,  Magic Roundabout's Dougal and Zebedee etc., when I created the Pebbles, which was the start of a series of childrens books.                           

               

The Old Forge Antiques Swanage

Swanage Beach

1984 Setting up the Studio
Pebbles in the Country by Michael Cooper

My writing career came to a sudden halt though when The Three Day Week of 1974 and the miners strike  brought the world of books and so many businesses to their knees. Many writers had contracts cancelled and authors and artists had to look elsewhwere to keep a roof over their heads so we upped sticks and moved to Somerset, where I worked for some years on a farm near Glastonbury as if provided us with a cottage

Life there, rising with or before dawn to work in the cheese dairy, was an experience that stood me in good stead though when it came to painting the farming scenes that I now specialize in.
This experience also gave birth to another book, a small pocket book in the Discovering Series called Discovering Farmhouse Cheese.I sometimes see copies of it or The Pebble books cropping up on Ebay from time to time.

 

The Pebbles
The Pebbles by Michael Cooper

Later following the familly's involvement in a major car accident I opened my first studio gallery in 1984 up many flights of stairs in the attic room at the top of Crispin Hall, an old Victorian  workers institute building in Street 

The car shown in the book above was based on an old 1929 Austin Chummy Reg No HX1033 that I bought when I was twenty years old for £30 and later sold for £100.
I hate to think what it would be worth now.

1994-96 Harrods and Whisky & Clarks Village
Michael Coopers Gallery

A few years later, after an exhibition at Harrods my painting started to attract attention and I discovered a demand for my highly detailed rural watercolours and studies of farming life.By recording  the rural scene I hope I have captured a way of life that is disappearing so fast  before it has gone forever.
In 1996 following a two-year commission for Allied Distillers painting all their whisky distilleries from Glasgow to the Orkneys I moved my studio gallery to Clarks Village the first purpose built outlet shopping centre in the UK.

 

The Whisky Commission
Glenburgie Distillery by Michael Cooper

Founded in 1810 near Alves in Morayshire, Glenburgie was one of many distilleries that I was commissioned to paint.This was the drawing for the painting of the still room with it's great copper stills.

You would be surprised how many of my friends offered to come and hold my brushes whilst I worked on this commission!

The Cider Orchard Collection
The Cider Drinker by Michael Cooper

The Cider Orchard Project

It was during this time that I discovered Marcus Govier's cider orchard at the foot of Glastonbury Tor and went on to paint my Cider Orchard Collection of about twenty paintings over a two year period recording day to day life at Marcus' place.

This work also resulted in an article for Farmers Weekly recalling the experience and privilege of working with Marcus. -The Cider Orchard

The paintings and these memories went on to become quite a large feature in the Western Daily Press West Country Magazine,to the extent that Marcus once  said that ''Oi've said oi'm not goin to give no more ortographs in Safeways when oi'm out shoppin'

By the way I think I can guarantee that the picture above of Marcus relaxing in his shed with his cider is the only painting in the world that includes a Safeway carrier bag and a Fly Paper in it.

Feet on the Ground

I have always liked to think that as an artist I had my feet on the ground so to speak. Most of the old famous artists were tradesmen artists, Turner,Constable and so on were not propped up by any grants from the  Arts Council but relied on their clients for support. So after years of being firstly up forty two steps of the stairs at Crispin Hall and then above Marks and Spencer at Clarks Village it was a treat when they moved my studio into a wooden barn like building on the ground floor.

In both these studios I was assisted by my son Benjamin for some years who dealt with selling my cards and prints wholesale and who organised our displays at the shows. We used to have  quite a large stand at The Royal Bath and West Show and displays at The Great Dorset Steam Fair and New Forest Show as well as The International Gift Fair at the NEC.
Knowing that I was planning retirement  Ben needing to be with a growing concern rather than with his father who was winding down, went on to become a sales executive for Daler Rowney the artist materials company.

The Present
The Little Grey Fergie by Michael Cooper

Since then I have concentrated  more than ever on recording the way of life in the countryside. Old and vintage tractors rusting away in the hedgerows,  cider orchards, and the assorted livestock of The Somerset Levels are all a source of inspiration for the artist.My new cow paintings,animal and pet portraits have added greatly to the selection of my  Countryside Collection.

Exhibition
Somerset Crafts Michael Cooper Exhibition

July /August 2013 - I had the featured exhibition at the Somerset Crafts Gallery at the Avalon Marshes Centre and was really touched to see how far some people came to see my paintings and make it a successful show, thank you.

The Future
Michael Cooper Artist

Retirement, not quite and not yet?

In 2011 I moved with my wife Susan to Ashcott, a small village at the end of the Polden Hills on the edge of the Somerset Levels where we were joined later by Ella our cat. She had been featured twice in our local paper as a little waif that they were having trouble to find a home for.
So it is really The Central Somerset Gazettes fault that we now have a home full of cats fur.
And I think Susan has had enough to put up with being married to an artist without have an ultra fussy eater of a cat to worry about as well.

.I have joined Somerset Crafts a cooperative of twenty or so artists and craftsmen who display their wares at their gallery at The Avalon Marshes Centre near Westhay  next to the famous nature reserves at Shapwick Heath.We each put in two days a month stewarding at the gallery,so I can  be found there every other Thursday.

 

The Cheese Judge

At The Mid Somerset Show Shepton Mallet having actually judged one of the cheese classes. Now there is a story.

Old copies of my ' Discovering Farmhouse Cheese' can sometime be found on Ebay or in secondhand book shops.