JULIAN COOPER



UNDER THE VOLCANO
- a group of paintings inspired by Malcolm Lowry's novel
Malcolm Lowry's novel Under the Volcano is written in a way that combines intricate symbolism with a vivid representational surface and an especially close identification with the protagonists on the author's part.
The main protagonist is a British Consul in 'Quauhnahuac', based on Cuernava, a town in Mexico where Lowry lived; the action takes twelve hours on the 'Day of the Dead', the 2nd November 1938. It is written on a variety of planes but Lowry summarized it thus:
"It is concerned with the forces in man which make him terrified of himself. It is also concerned with guilt, remorse, struggles toward the light, doom. The allegory is that of the Garden of Eden. The drunkenness of the Consul is used to symbolize the universal 'drunkenness' of mankind, during the war or during the period leading up to it."
The paintings here depict particular moments in the drama chosen for their self-sufficiency and symbolic power.
Under the VolcanoClick image for details and to enlarge
The book is set in Mexico in 1938. Here two of the characters, the British Consul and his ex-wife Yvonne, are simply presented, along with the horse which appears throughout the book and which eventually brings about their deaths. In trying to integrate man, woman, horse, building and mountains I had in mind certain 15th century Italian paintings by Massacio and Piero, where architecture and people become inter-dependent, the architecture elevating the figures and the figures providing a scale for the buildings. The tower seems to be an emanation of the consul and confronts the volcano. The horse connects him to Yvonne, while she seems to shield him from the policeman. Calle Nicaragua
Calle Nicaragua
 
Looking from the semi-deserted hotel towards the town, a year later, Dr Vigil and Laruelle having played tennis talk about the events a year ago. The aim was to try to suggest that what appears above and beyond the men on the balcony is being fabricated as you watch by their conversation Casino del Selva
Casino del Selva
 
The scene here is Yvonne returning to Cuernavaca after a years absence, to find the consul in the bar in the early morning after the fiesta of the Day of the Dead. Her reflection in the mirror and her shadow are unseen by the consul, the barman recognises her however, over his shoulder.
The consul holds forth, pointing at the poster, hardly aware that the night has ended.
An Indian is partitioned off in another part of the bar. The morning light is going to tap him on the shoulder.
Bella Vista Hotel
Bella Vista Hotel
 
The Consul's wife, seen through the eyes of the consul who sees himself as an intruder in his wife's bedroom, seeing it not as a consequence of divorce but one of the grounds for it. The ravine outside has a bridge over it, the ferris wheel beyond connects with the cover of the astrology book beside her. Yvonne (the consul's wife)
Yvonne
 
It is mid-morning. The consul, left, gazes into the pool. Yvonne having swum sits near Hugh, the consul's half-brother, looking towards her ex-husband. Hugh lights Dr Vigil's cigarette.
All three relate to each other through the consul, yet he is isolated, drinking.
I wanted to build a pattern of tension between the people, set against and echoed by the vast landscape.
On the Porch
On the Porch
 
The same garden, looking back towards the house. A small allegory appears in the book of an insect that gets caught in the cat's jaws but manages to escape. "The soul escapes the jaws of death" In the Garden
In the Garden
 
The Farolito is the name of a bar, known as a centre of fascist activity, to which the Consul is drawn, as he is towards dark forces. Here he finds himself in danger. He unconsciously identifies with the left side of the picture, while looking out at the reflection of the volcano in the mirror which transcends the situation in the bar. The old woman in front is also out of it, a counterpoint to the rest. The consul is suspected of being a spy and is shot by the man in the hat on the right. The three figures on the right are derived from the three figures of Piero Della Francesca's 'Flagellation'. The Farolito
The Farolito
 



In 1992, Julian Cooper went to Brazil to paint the moment of the assassination of Chico Mendes, the Union organiser for the rubber tappers who wanted to protect their living from incoming cattle ranchers who were clearing the forest for short-term gain. This is part of his account of the visit.

DEATH IN THE FOREST! DEATH OF THE FOREST
Chico Mendes 1 (no enlarged image) Chico Mendes 2 (no enlarged image) Chico Mendes 3 (no enlarged image)
The Assassination of Chico Mendes - triptych. Each panel is 7ft x 6½ft.
19th August, 1992

Iím sitting in front of a tree with huge flying buttresses trying to do a painting in two hours because thatís when Jorge, the rubber tapper, returns to take me back to the seringal, or clearing, where they live. He is a friend of Chico Mendes who helped to set up the Union to protect their living from ranchers who come from the south of Brazil to clear the forest for short-term cattle ranching.
Chico Mendes was assassinated in December 1988 by hired guns who were employed by the land speculators. Chico Mendes represented the link between people and forest, between those living with nature and those living against, the rubber tappers and the ranchers. To Wordsworth, the landscape was not just picturesque but a system of statesman farmers who had a special working relationship with the land. In his time it was a threatened way of life, which he recognised. In this period the rubber tappers are similarly threatened.
In 1992 I went to Brazil with the help of a Northern Arts travel grant to research the actual circumstances of the assassination, to talk to his wife and friends, the prosecutor and the organiser of the Chico Mendes Foundation, which is running on minimal funding to carry on the ideas of sustainable forest reserves in the Amazon.
I wanted to paint the actual moment when Chico opened the back door and the assassin was waiting. The actual house was not as I imagined. It was not the site of an epic murder. It was mundane, broken down, simple. So I had great problems of integrating the epic vision with the domestic reality. I went out with a fully worked out scheme for the painting in the form of a triptych which I had derived from written accounts. There were three characters involved: Chico Mendes, his wife Ilzamar, and the assassin Darci Alves Pereira.
There were three spaces: Darci alongside the outhouse, Chico opening the back door for a shower in the outhouse before tea, and Ilzamar who was catching up on the last episode of a Brazilian soap opera on the television, as was the whole of Brazil, revealing who had killed the hero.
These are real people, but behind these three characters the one on the left, the assassin, represented the degradation of nature which we all collude in; the one in the centre, the martyr, represents a neglected rural working class; the one in the background on the right is taking in the values of Rio via a satellite, which is another form of assault in a domestic backroom.
These three panels are each 7ft wide and 6ft 6ins tall with a space between that allows each panel to be cinematic in effect, cutting across to the interior of the house, and not only acting out the real space of the event, but hinging on the moment of action that is precipitated by the opening of the door, the long expected moment of death.
I chose a subject like this because I believe figurative painting to earn its keep alongside photography, cinema and television must break out of itís own self-referential cycle.
Nevertheless, another reason I was drawn to this contemporary documentary history subject were the echoes of past art it suggested, from 14th century Italian religious painting through Goya to Manet.
Julian Cooper



St Sebastian
St Sebastian
Xapuri Christ
Xapuri Christ
Ilzamar watching TV
Ilzamar watching TV
TV Fire I
TV Fire I
TV soap
TV soap
TV Fire II
TV Fire II