Film by Eric Minh Swenson. Music by The Stitches.
AN AMERICAN ORIGINAL By Mat Gleason. (an excerpt from a LEAP OF FAITH)
You want a long boring essay on Coop that has serious art history references and substantiation of his investment value? This is one artist that transcends the “Accompanying Essay” genre. The tentacles of intellectual analysis can tickle the Coop catalog, but the tendency to confine him to a category and to define his art’s destiny are the type of grip from which this master of visual rock and roll will always make an easy escape.
This doesn’t mean you cannot take him seriously. You, in fact, must take him seriously. Art history and the fate of free expression amidst civilized people are on his side. The reflexive critics of Coop are to be feared. They represent everything that is wrong with civilization. People who turn away from a Coop too quickly are the people who make demands that art submit to their arbitrary VIP-room, where party membership determines proximity to the bar and lounge.
Coop’s art busts in as a self-proclaimed freedom fighter and blasts every piece of aspiring Eurotrash to kingdom come, blasting not out of contempt or envy or anything other than awesomeness. The established gatekeepers of stiff and boring art label him “merely illustration” hoping that you will not look deeper, praying for nodded agreements from the sheep and repeating this dismissal from the parrots.
Art is a risk. The risk is that it won’t sell. The risk is that they won’t stand and cheer. Lots of artists never have those two things standing in the way. Most people who get them lose every shred of artistry they ever had, and quick. Money and fans conspire to kill an artist’s impulse to push forward. The artist who never has them, though, often pushes against nothing. The artist who is seduced by the glamour of it all pushes too soft.
Coop is an interesting case because he oozes hybrid fearlessness without ever being behind the curve. And amidst this process of visually reorganizing Americana for the twenty-first century, Coop developed something that few artists ever get: an audience.
So where does one get the backbone to throw away a great career on a leap of supreme confidence in one’s self? When Coop was young, he had a hero who did exactly that for a living. Prior to Star Wars, a kid in the 1970s had two heroes to choose from: Steve Austin or Evel Knievel. Steve Austin was the character played by Lee Majors in The Six Million Dollar Man television show. Steve almost died and was rebuilt into a superstrong cyborg at the cost of the show’s namesake medical bill. He was fast, strong and had a bionic telescope for an eye. And he was a fictional character.
Evel Knievel, meanwhile, was a real man. He rode a motorcycle. HIS motorcycle. He jumped that machine through the air. When it landed, he often broke bones, ended up in the hospital and was rumored to be near death. While Steve Austin’s scripts ran out of ideas fast and he was soon matched up against Bigfoot in a quest to defeat unexplained cold war conspiracies, Evel Knievel just kept riding that motorcycle, with no need for a narrative to justify his mission.
In the mid-1970s, the philosopher Michel Foucault broke down how a culture alters when the idea of god is no longer central to it. He said “From the idea that the self is not given to us, I think that there is only practical consequence, we have to create ourselves as a work of art.” The fiction of Steve Austin was of submission, of being mastered by machines, of serving some greater enterprise, of being a component within a larger creative endeavor. Evel Knievel was a living work of art; he was his own fucking masterpiece.
The art school minions are the Steve Austin acolytes, six million dollars in debt to the system and spouting nonsense. Coop is Evel Knievel, his artworks are the residue of his alchemy, his tools the he uses to craft his magick are his own, there is no team of surgeons collaging his vision together, it is