Nic Cooper

Nic Cooper
University of Ottawa (ON)

My painting practice aims to consider the ways in which we remember the past as a collective culture, and how painting activates and forms connections with archive imagery, history, and contemporary politics. Specifically, my work conducts a historical trace that is both personal and collective, focusing on stories and images of resilience from pre-war Jewish life, the Holocaust, WWII monuments and the subsequent occupation of Palestine by the State of Israel. Although a chronology is present in that list, in an almost cause and effect framing of history, I am interested in how forms and figures compose non-linear narratives in the space of a painting. By merging fragments of photographic documents from divergent times, locations and events into the fictive space of a painting, atemporal narratives are formed, images are re-contextualized and the fragmented process of remembering is enacted. Through saturated colours and embellished details, the historic image is animated and more closely mimics a memory or an imagined scene as opposed to an impression of the real event. 
As my work engages historic and contemporary images of trauma, my practice is framed by an ethical empathy and method of appropriation. I employ a critical self-reflexive empathy, highlighted by focusing on stories of resilience; representing living bodies and by resisting the position of the ‘victim’ in my work. I regard photography not just as a source, but as a subject, cognisant of its cropping and bias, its contested nature as documentary and questioning what gaze produced the images, especially in the context of war photography. 

I seek to connect my Jewish Polish and Croatian heritage, in conjunction with my experiences briefly living in Israel-Palestine, using both family photos and images in the public domain to contextualize family history within world history. I’m interested in how painting builds personal narratives and reframes archival materials that are typically fixed in their usage and meaning.

Nic Cooper is a visual artist based in Ottawa-Gatineau. They are currently a second-year MFA Visual Arts Candidate at the University of Ottawa and hold a BFA Major in Fine Arts from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design University (2012). Their work has been in exhibitions across Canada and they have participated in artist residencies locally and internationally. Recently they presented their artwork and research at the Narrative and Memory: Ethics, Aesthetics and Politics conference in Estonia, hosted by the Nordic Summer University. They are the recipient of the Charles Gagnon Scholarship and Stonecroft Scholarship (2019) at the University of Ottawa. Cooper recently completed an internship at the National Gallery of Canada as a curatorial research assistant, and at the Canada Pavilion at the Venice Biennale. They are currently on the Board of Trustees at SAW Gallery in Ottawa.