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Around the galleries

Every postcard tells a story

— April 2013

Associated media

Jeremy Cooper, Mother's Boy, 1993, photographs, cigarette cards, cotton cap badges mounted on card, 42 x 36ins. Image © Jeremy Cooper, 2013

Rosalind Ormiston views an unusual show in an unconventional gallery space

‘Postcard Narratives: Jeremy Cooper and invited artists’, has opened at ROOM Artspace, London (until 27 April, 2013). Art works were created from Cooper's comprehensive collection of artists’ postcards, that is, postcards as artistic expression, not postcard-size art or postcards of art. The gallery, on the ground floor and basement rooms of an empty Georgian house, displays the art in the entrance, on stairs, above fireplaces, on shelves, in niches, in corridors, by stairwells, in the kitchen, back rooms and parlour. The empty rooms, particularly in the wide entrance hall, front reception room and ‘below stairs’ create a very special atmosphere for this stimulating show.

‘Postcard Narratives’ is Jeremy Cooper’s first London exhibition, supported by artist-friends he has invited to take part. These include Gavin Turk, Susan Hiller and Tracey Emin, who were important to him in its initial development. Most of the artists in the show have made postcard artworks in the past. Cooper – who always buys two of every postcard he likes invited the artists to choose from his collection to create a work for the show; or to make their own. Contributions from Emin, Hiller, Turk and Georgie Hopton, Julie Cockburn, Abigail Lane and Sarah Staton, Daniel Eatock and Sara McKillop, Frances Richardson, and art graduates Cristina Garrido and Rebecca Loweth, complement Cooper’s own art. Some of the works are for sale.

Cooper's Male Artists, 2011, 56 portrait postcards mounted on card, created from unsent, stored postcards, illustrates his methodical cataloguing, filing and storing of postcards in diverse groups. He has included memories of growing up: at Orley Farm prep school, Harrow on the Hill, Middlesex, in Mother’s Boy, 1993; and from his public-school years at Harrow, where his father was an assistant Master, in Leavers, 1991 and Black and White Harrow, 2012. Other works too, including Gavin's Sheep, 1991, and Maggie & Gilbert, 1990 (Margaret Thatcher and Gilbert & George postcards on card), have a surprising history, retold in the exhibition catalogue (copies available in the gallery). For example, the initial inspiration for 'Postcard Narratives':

[Gavin]Turk and Cooper lived throughout the 1990s in the same street in Shoreditch, where Tracey Emin was a frequent visitor. It was on one of Emin’s visits in the late 1990s to his [Cooper's] warehouse home that she came across his labelled envelopes of postcards, stacked in the long drawer of a bookcase, and her enthusiasm for the collection triggered Cooper’s thoughts of one day mounting an exhibition. Emin used to keep her own postcards and other ephemera in similarly stored order, from which to make work.

For this exhibition Gavin Turk has created Metaphysical Nail (postcard), 2013; a small nail hammered into the wall through a plain postcard at a 30 degree angle; a reference to his sculpture ‘NAIL’, 2011, in bronze, located close to St Paul’s Cathedral, London. Inspired by a postcard Tracey Emin exhibits a print of The Golden Mile, an etching of a view from Margate to the sea. Georgie Hopton, using William Morris pattern postcards from Cooper’s collection, has created a flora-fauna collage WILLIAM,2013, which relates to her pictorial art. Susan Hiller’s ‘The Artist, The Studio, The Critic’, 2013, is a composite of postcards she has collected since the 1970s.

Helen Knight contributed two pieces of artwork created from her own blood. Their sole placement in an empty basement room with broken plaster walls, decaying wooden beam ceiling and dim light creates an unsettling, unknown narrative. In a light-filled room next door is Abigail Lane's sculptural installation Your World is a Burden to Me, 2013, and a series of art works by Cristina Garrido, created from Cooper’s store of postcards. Garrido paints out significant art-objects in a postcard, leaving the spectator to question where and what the object is. Off the basement corridor are works by Frances Richardson and Rebecca Loweth. Richardson incorporates postcards into three-dimensional MDF work. Would only be Heartbreak for Me, 2012, an MDF triptych, holds cards of the Madonna and Child. With a scalpel Richardson removes most of the images from the surface.  Loweth, using Cooper’s postcards,  changes their shape and meaning, to create forms like sculptural reliefs. These are just a few examples of the varied range of new work on display; each artist responding differently to Cooper’s challenge to create art using the postcard.

Jeremy Cooper's remarkable postcard collection has been accepted as a future gift by the British Museum and scheduled for exhibition in the Department of Prints and Drawings at the BM in 2018.

‘Postcard Narratives’ is the final exhibition for ROOM Artspace at this location; the gallery is moving premises. Catch this exhibition whilst it is at 30 Manchester Street, to see it in the surrounds of an exceptional space.


Rosalind Ormiston
Independent art historian

Media credit: Image © Jeremy Cooper, 2013

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