Rob Cooper is a glass artist from Jackson, MS. He combines many techniques in his personal work and his professional work for Pearl River Studios. He is a member of the Mississippi Craftsman’s Guild and exhibits at Fischer Galleries in Jackson and The Attic Gallery in Vicksburg.
How did your interest in your medium begin and how did you arrive at your current style?
I began working in glass through an artist internship during my senior year in high school. I was given the task of creating my own stained glass window and to gain an understanding of the medium while doing so. I had no idea I would continue creating windows and many other things out of glass for the next 23 years. I seemed to have a connection with the medium right from the beginning, and I was hired on at Pearl River Glass Studio to start at the bottom with the grueling finishing work and eventually started to paint decorative elements on actual church windows.
As I became more proficient with painting, I was given the role of lead glass painter and started to paint life size figures and scenery in windows. It was the consistent process of mixing glass paint and gum arabic with water, laying on line work with many layers of shading, and finally firing the glass in a kiln that solidified an understanding of the art form of glass painting almost like an alchemist. Throughout my years of learning this very traditional craft, I always made it a point to stretch my understanding of the materials into unknown territory. I combined processes and experimented in a myriad of ways with both glass and paint until I finally struck a combination of the two that seemed new to me. I had already begun learning the process of fusing glass at high temperatures alongside painting church windows, so it seemed a natural evolution to combine the two. I literally began sandwiching the paint in between layers of glass and learned through disaster and heartache how to engineer the kiln to properly fire these pieces to have an aesthetic that excited me.
Glass is such a versatile medium and I am far from exhausting the possibilities with it. I am currently revisiting the traditional aspects of stained glass and hope to bring more experimentation into leaded glass as I continue to explore its roots.
Do you feel creatively satisfied?
At this point in my glass career, I almost feel like I’m at a fork in the road. So much of what I do in my own work has stemmed from what I have learned at the glass studio I’ve worked at for over 20 years. There are a lot of rewarding results from the hard work and experiments I have ventured through there, but I also feel like I’m cut off from many of my sensibilities. Glass can be a confining medium with its very specific demands of handling. For instance, every time I paint on glass, it must be under the illumination of a light table and being a person who loves to draw and paint outdoors, it can begin to feel like work to create art. I actually believe that glass is potentially the most powerful visual medium in art, especially after knowing what the medium is capable of. The quote about Spider-man, that with great power comes great responsibility, would fit nicely here, because since there are so many amazing things you can do with glass, I feel the weight of not living up to the medium’s potential a little too often. So to get the point, I feel like I need to either raise the stakes, or just completely take a break from glass.
Who have been some of your biggest influences or your best teachers?
As far as influence goes, I’m very sensitive to my surroundings and feel like I’m influenced by anyone and everything. If I see my son playing with his action figures for instance, I’m drawn into that world and think I want to make art based on that. It is very hard for me to turn off the empathy to my surroundings long enough to know what my own ideas are. So naturally, I would say the three people I share the same roof with everyday influence me the most, and they are all artists as well. Thinking of teachers who have helped me along the way, I have to mention Andy Young at Pearl River Glass Studio because he has been there from the beginning of my glass career giving me advice and being a continuous example of a working artist.
How do you choose your subjects?
I see subject matter anywhere and everywhere. Living in a rapidly changing world, it’s hard not to. I have a hard time choosing which things to put my creative energies into and quite often, one idea rattles around in my head competing with another and nothing physically gets made, but I’ll find a remnant of that mental journey appearing down the road in a piece after I thought I had forgotten about it. By default, I’m always drawn to turn-of-the-century images as well as scenes of the depression era, silver age comics, pop culture from my child hood, and especially my own personal surroundings.
How do you feel about the relationship of an artist to their city or surroundings?
As receptive individuals, artists can’t help but be influenced by their surroundings. I think it becomes a choice of embracing it or resisting the effect it has on you. It leaves its mark either way. Beauty comes in many forms and I like the challenge of finding it in unlikely places within my everyday environment.
Do you have a creative or artistic peer group in your area that you're a part of?
I’m surrounding by creative forces of nature in my own community. There are so many people all around me with great ideas doing amazing work. I mostly see these folks at art shows, and leaning towards the introverted side of the scale myself, I run into them on Instagram even more.
Where do you go to draw inspiration?
I am thrilled to live in the heart of Mississippi right now. With such places as the Mississippi Museum of Art, the Wolfe Studio, and Fischer Galleries practically minutes away, I never have a shortage of getting a dose of artistic inspiration. When I feel like driving just a little more, my favorite gallery to visit is the awe inspiring Attic Gallery in Vicksburg, MS. It is also quite empowering to share the same stomping grounds with so many writers, artists, and musicians who have come before me.