Bucolic Inspiration: Joanne Cope with her bold bovine portraits
PUBLISHED: 16:44 21 February 2011 | UPDATED: 18:55 20 February 2013
Somerset Life talks to Joanne Cope, an artist whose light and airy Bath studio is filled with her bold bovine portraits with large, soulful, inquisitive eyes that seem to follow your every move
Powerful, imposing and yet incredibly serene portraits of cattle stand herd-like around the room and one gets a strong sense that the more you look at these oil paintings, the more interest the subject matter has in looking back. This is Joannes unusual, deliberate and confident accomplishment.
It was around four years ago that Joanne began to focus on painting bovine portraits exclusively. I completed a series of bucolic paintings that had been commissioned to hang within a newly refurbished hotel in the West Country. One of the largest and most prominently positioned paintings was that of a white Charolais cow, which I painted using sumptuous warm tones and used a textured abstract landscape in the background.
This painting gained so much positive attention in the weeks and months following the re-opening of the hotel, that Joanne received more than 40 commissions as a result. The proliferation of paintings also prompted the move from her first studio, a tiny garret in Covent Garden, London, to her studio in Bath in 2007. Relocating to Somerset has provided Joanne with an abundance of inspiration, thanks to the numerous cattle farms and breathtaking views in the vicinity.
Most of Joannes subjects are painted as close to life size as possible. The animals themselves are portrayed as bold and icon-like, as Joannes intention is to create powerful rather than clichd or caricatured images of them. Her cattle are set within abstractions of their natural habitats and her use of dramatic lighting harks back to 17th-century masters such as Rembrandt, Frans Hals and Rubens, who used this technique to enhance the drama of scene and put the spotlight firmly on the main subject of the composition. It is part of a personal journey for Joanne to continue to explore the techniques of this handful of renaissance painters that she so admires. I really do think that I have captured that special quality of light in some of my latest paintings. Looking at the paintings in question, its as if she has indeed walked up to the cattle in the dead of night candle in hand and painted what she has observed.
Joanne pays regular visits to farmers and breeders to keep her reference material fresh. It is amazing what can come from a quick little sketch on a small piece of paper, yet this is how along with the use of reference photos many of Joannes paintings first come to life. From the drawings, photos and notes, Joanne works on smaller colour compositions, before sketching the chosen design onto a large canvas.
She uses specialised oil paints made from pigment and oil modified alkyd resin, which speed up the drying time and create greater translucency and luminosity. One great property of oil paints is that they do not change colour when dry as opposed, for example, to acrylics. I love their viscosity and the ease with which I can blend them. Once a painting is near to completion, Joanne will begin to apply several thin layers of glaze to unify colour before the painting is finally varnished.
Born in Auckland, New Zealand in 1970, Joanne spent long summer holidays on family farms immersed in the outdoor lifestyle, herding cattle on horseback, hay baling and stacking wool. Even then, she remembers always having a desire to draw, paint and make things. When I was younger, Dad was amazingly enthusiastic about my early attempts at drawing plus my mum and grandmother were both very creative and dextrous. Joannes mum was as happy sewing or upholstering as she was sketching and painting. Mum taught me a lot about using oils and the difference that glazes could make to a painting, and as she was always experimenting with different styles and methods, I inadvertently picked up tips along the way.
A proud member of the New Zealand Womans Institute, Joannes grandmother made an array of different handicrafts, which she sold to raise money for charities. Her grandmother also enjoyed panning for gold in local rivers well into her seventies. From the banks of these same rivers, she would carefully collect sands in different hues and spend hours painstakingly placing them with the help of straws into antique bottles, to create striking images of local landscapes.
Keeping the family history of artistic endeavour alive, Joanne opted to study for a degree in Visual Communication and Graphic Design. Majoring in illustration and printmaking, her first solo exhibition in Auckland in 1992 was a sell-out. Arriving in the UK in 1994, Joanne began working as a self-employed commercial artist, preparing graphic artwork for a range clients, while also accepting various painting commissions from private clients. My graphics background helped me to earn money while I was building up my painting portfolio. I was luckily never a starving artist.
Her stunning portraits of West Country cattle have earned Joanne local, national and international acclaim. Her paintings now hang in homes and head offices around the world and she continues to receive commissions from both the private and corporate sectors. Joannes work continues to evolve and she is in the final stages of preparing for two coinciding shows: one in London Fin, Fur, Feather from 26 March 8 May at Wills Art Emporium in Putney, and another solo exhibition, Into the Light, at Milsom Place, Bath, from 25 April 8 May.