- For five days he fought against the altitude to make a painting while seracs cracked off, stones fell, glacial dust was blown up from the cliff below, and cracks started appearing in the ground behind and in front of him. “Slicing off like salami, the earth eroded right up to my canvas,” he recalls. But he completed that, and many more, working in dangerous and high places. Now a retrospective exhibition will show some of the paintings from climber and artist Julian Cooper
A remarkable exhibition of mountain paintings which still leave the artist with powerful memories is to open in the Lake District next month.
Among Mountains is an exhibition of paintings of some of the world’s greatest mountain ranges by Julian Cooper, Britain’s foremost living mountain painter who, in recent years, has concentrated on images closer to home in the northern fells.
The exhibition, covering 25 years, is certain to excite interest among those who love mountains and love art; these are some of Cooper’s “hardcore” works that have not been shown before in Grasmere, and they are all the result of Cooper’s own adventures as a painter of mountain landscapes, fraught with danger and risk.
It will open here at the Heaton Cooper Studio archive gallery in Grasmere on Feb 20.
The collection includes paintings done during a two month trip to the Peruvian Andes in 1995, where Cooper worked on a large scale direct from the subject on site, along with the two remaining paintings in his possession from the Tibetan Kailas series. These were done fifteen years later when, in 2006, he travelled across to the far west of Tibet and walked all around the sacred mountain of Kailas, painting each aspect of the mountain on site but on a smaller scale, and producing several large paintings on his return.
There will also be Alpine paintings originated when Cooper and his wife Linda spent Christmas week in 1990 in Zermatt, and he drew and photographed the mountains from high up above the valley, reached by cable car. The painting Above Zermatt was one of several done soon afterwards in 1990, but the four other Alpine paintings in the exhibition were produced 23 years later in 2013 using the original sketchbook drawings, for the 150th anniversary edition of the Alpine Journal commissioned by its then editor Stephen Goodwin.
Cooper’s compulsion to travel to distant mountains has, in more recent times, been replaced by exploration of the rock landscape on home territory, producing some monumental works. In the most recent work he exploits the rich possibilities of Northern Lakeland fells with their vertical interplay between the wildness of the heights, the cultivated valley fields, and the marginal land in between. This is in complete contrast to the paintings of the great mountain ranges. Looking at the few paintings still in his possession, Cooper says “they evoke strong memories and even a sensation of breathlessness”.
Those memories include episodes which demonstrate the artist’s determination. On one occasion, working from a base camp in the Andean watershed, he carried 40 tubes of paint, a 7X6ft canvas and its alloy frame another 1000ft higher to his working site on a moraine edge. For five days he fought against the altitude to make a painting while seracs cracked off, stones fell, glacial dust was blown up from the cliff below, and cracks started appearing in the ground behind and in front of him. “Slicing off like salami, the earth eroded right up to my canvas,” he recalls. He decided it was too dangerous to stay.
The exhibition will also feature photos, drawings and text alongside other material related to these trips to the mountains.
Michael Richardson, of London’s Art Space Gallery where some of the paintings have been exhibited in the past, explained that because climbing on the sacred mountain of Kailas in Tibet is forbidden, Cooper followed the centuries-old route of Buddhist, Hindu and Jain pilgrims and circumambulated the mountain, observing and recording his experiences. “Making plein air studies, photographing and above all looking and scrutinising the geology for hours on end he started a process of engagement with the mountain, and its ethos, that continued back in his studio where the imaginative weight of the subject revealed itself on large semi-abstract canvases.”
Richardson adds: “Shunning a simple reliance on reproducing the appearance of things, Cooper’s expeditions and working method are his way of probing away at the deeper metaphorical significance of mountains. Cooper has reclaimed a landscape tradition thought by many to be doomed in an unmistakably contemporary way.”
Paintings from Tibet, Peru, and the Swiss Alps, 1995 to 2013 by Julian Cooper.
Heaton Cooper Studio, Grasmere
20TH FEBRUARY – 10TH MAY, 2020