Art critique

Art & Soul featured artist Matthew Cooper’s art showing joy and criticism

Drawing was magic for Matthew Cooper growing up. Knowing he wanted to pursue art in one form or another, he studied graphic design in college before discovering that he didn’t like the technological side. He always wanted to create but didn’t know how it would manifest in his future.

The path cleared when Cooper studied Drawing and African Studies at IUPUI. Working with Associate Professor Anila Quayyum Agha at the Herron School of Art and Design, he learned to unfold the ideas bubbling within him. She showed him works by Henry Taylor, Noah Davis, Jean-Michel Basquiat and other black artists that were not in his textbooks.

“I had a lot of stuff inside me that I wanted to say, but I just didn’t know how to tell it,” Cooper said. “I wanted to be this great artist and blaze a trail that I hadn’t seen in the art history books, but I mean, I just didn’t know how to say it.”

Cooper is the second of four featured artists to be honored for Art & Soul. The others are singers AshLee “PsyWrn Simone” Baskin, jazz pianist Christopher Pitts and guitarist Yadin Kol.

Painter Matthew Cooper is one of Art & Soul's featured artists in 2021.

The celebration of black music, dance, poetry and visual arts usually takes place downtown in the Artsgarden. This year, on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of Art & Soul, the organizers Arts Council of Indianapolis, Indy Jazz Fest and the Asante Art Institute have put it online for indyarts.org/about/art-soul.

Cooper’s filmed conversation about his work with Lindsey Lord, director of artist services and gallery 924, will launch online around noon Tuesday.

Art & Soul viewers have already seen Cooper’s “Still Standing,” a triptych of portraits that show African resilience and perseverance, set against the backdrop of the virtual performances. He created the artwork in June on the old City Hall building as part of the wave of racial justice murals downtown. In the center is a man who was wrongfully convicted of murder.

The idea originated while Cooper was a student at Herron. He wandered through the school’s paint studios, where his mind lit up with new possibilities.

“I was just in awe of what they were painting and what they were doing, from the mediums to the materials and the mess they were making. I was like, this is what I want to do, I want to be a painter said Cooper.

Two more of his paintings will be exhibited in the windows of gallery 924 until February 28. In “Running Through the Hood”, three children race through the front yard of a house under deep blue skies. The artist said it was reminiscent of neighborhood camaraderie and carefree play.

In another work, a man holds his right fist in the air, honoring a sign that represents black power, the Black Panthers, and the programs the group founded to rehabilitate black communities. An industrial conveyor belt crosses the body of the man, who is dressed in a smart jacket. Black creations that have been commodified, like music, are represented by objects like a trumpet, Cooper said. Dominating the stage is a video camera, monitoring any products that might be sold next to consumers.

“We still haven’t figured out how to take our own culture and put it under a microscope and make money out of it because that’s not really our thing; we’re not trying to make money with our stuff,” said Cooper, who grew up in East Indianapolis.

“We’ve seen it in society with Kim (Kardashian); they try to pull and take the braids and try to call them Kim K braids. It’s the same thing over there. Why are you going to take something thing we’ve been doing forever – they even called it ‘ghetto’ – but when they put it on, it’s like, ‘Oh, let’s make this up. It’s all the rage now.’”

How to watch

Around 12:15 p.m. from Tuesday to Friday until February 26, an Art & Soul song will be broadcast on WISH-TV’s Facebook page. Around this time, previously recorded 45-minute interviews and performances by star artists and other musical acts are scheduled to be on-demand at indyarts.org/about/art-soul. They will remain standing for the rest of the year. The theme for 2021 is “Black by Popular Demand”.

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Contact IndyStar reporter Domenica Bongiovanni at 317-444-7339 or [email protected]. Follow her on Facebook, instagram or Twitter: @domenicareports.