‘WINGS AND BRUSHSTROKES’: FORTHCOMING EXHIBITION BY MICHELLE PEARSON COOPER, AT THE OSBORNE STUDIO GALLERY www.osg.uk.com
OCTOBER 18TH TO NOVEMBER 11TH
This is the story of wildlife painter-traveller Michelle Pearson Cooper, who calls her art a ‘visual tribute to endangered species’ with a particular dedication to the fauna and flora of Africa.
She depicts all forms of wildlife from tiny bees and fragile flowers of the field, to the power of a lion, cheetah or leopard. She lives in an Oxfordshire farmhouse, described by friends as ‘full of laughter’, her lurcher and Labrador dogs as ‘reigning princes’, with studios in London and South Africa, the ‘beloved country’ where she now has a house and stays every year.
She explains her compulsion to paint as a child ‘ I never thought of any other career but that of an artist.’ When I was seven years old, I was drawing with the other children, and my headmaster asked: where does the sky end? Paint what you see. ‘ That was my Eureka moment. I realised that I should be painting what I saw for myself, not what anyone else was doing.’
She won a rare art scholarship to Millfield School, before continuing art studies with ‘La Signorina’ Nerina Simi (1890-1987), described by Royal portrait painter Pietro Annigoni as the greatest art teacher of the 20th century, venerated by generations of pupils. Michelle’s held her first solo exhibition in Bond Street, aged 21, after this rigorous classical training. Everything sold. Later there were 16 more solo exhibitions including Palm Beach, Marrakesh and Dubai. Collectors were attracted to a refreshing lack of sentiment in her charcoal, watercolour and oil animal portraits.
International commissions followed from around the world. Distinguished patrons include HRH the King of Bahrein, Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, the Duke of Marlborough, Lord Palumbo, Bruce Oldfield, Gordon Ramsay, Tom Stoppard, philanthropist Sir John Madejski, the Rothschild and Vestey families. Michelle speaks from the heart: ‘I love animals. I try to capture their character, not rob them of dignity, nor turn them into humans.’
She is also an explorer, a traveller who found her greatest artistic and spiritual fulfilment in desert spaces, trekking through Namibia, Jordan and Oman, also the Sahara and Rajasthan.
This new exhibition brings together her fascination with bees, birds and big cats, and an affectionate understanding of the indigenous people of South Africa. She is inspired by their traditional decorative design. She lives close to these peoples’ natural home in Africa. Forming what she calls a ‘symbiotic relationship’ recreating individual portraits of them later in her studio. She loves the colours of Ndebele tribal design, the ceremonial costumes of the Xhosa, incorporating gala blankets, beaded headbands and ostrich feathers.
The character of their design inspires her work, she has adapted tribal patterns to make vibrant backgrounds in her animal portraits.
The exhibition will include charcoal drawings of cheetah, the speediest big cats on earth, watercolours and sketches of the Maasai, oil paintings of pangolin, lion and leopard. She found fresh inspiration from the richness of ceremonial dress in harmony with animals of the wild, and as an enchanting new theme ‘threading all the way through’ tiny oil studies of bees.
Her own personal mission: ‘ I aim to capture the power and importance of my subject matter in these mediums of my work, and the very dangerous threats they increasingly face so bringing attention to their beauty in this ever changing world that we live in today, and a visual tribute to endangered species, traditional African culture and especially the protection of bees.’
Her latest campaign, headed by Sir David Attenborough, is a fight to save the pangolin, the most trafficked mammal in the world. Fauna & Fauna International, dedicated to conservation, report a breakthrough discovery of its scales being pulverised for Asian medicine.
Images are included to give an overview of the show, from Africa and world travels, including the wondrous pangolin, cheetah, leopard, Indian moon bear, Icelandic pony and rainbow macaw. A new passion, induced by Covid which forced her to stay at home in Oxfordshire, inspired her to depict the rich variety of wildflowers in the English countryside.
A few words from Michelle Pearson about her painting: my style is loosely representational with an occasional abstract touch, being influenced by the great artists from Michelangelo, John Singer Sargent, Edouard Manet, to Honoré Daumier
Michelle Pearson Cooper’s delicate flower studies, made when Covid meant escape to Africa was forbidden, are another highlight of her exhibition.
These paintings of wildflowers, butterflies and bees, were inspired during the pandemic.
She began by observing all the wildflowers in meadows and fields around her home in South Oxfordshire. A recent commission, included in the exhibition is a series of insects and wildflowers for the owners of a Coronation Meadow, Hyde Mill, Stow on the Wold, Gloucestershire, a spectacular site famous for 165 different species of wildflowers.
HRH Prince of Wales, King Charles, launched his idea, Coronation Meadows, in 2013. He worked with Dame Miriam Rothschild to replace the many wildflower meadows destroyed over the past sixty years. She devised a seed mix of over 130 species typical of the natural flora of Gloucestershire for the Royal Coronation Meadow at Highgrove.