This is my drawing of Thomas Sidney Cooper RA (1803-1902). It’s a commissioned work for Canterbury Christ Church University’s Sidney Cooper Gallery to commemorate the gallery’s 150th year.
This small silverpoint drawing and it has taken forever to do and it’s the third of three attempts. It’s been such a troubled-over and time-consuming piece. Work on it has now ceased and the next time I’ll see it it’ll be framed and on display as part an installation of Sound Artist Emily Peasgood’s solo show in January. Once the exhibition is over it will become part of the university’s permanent collection of artworks.
The artwork contains an image of the man and hand-written text. I’ve used a mix of different images as reference but my drawing most closely resembles a photographic image from about the time the Sidney Cooper Gallery was built.
The story goes that Cooper was born in the house which is now part of the gallery and that he had a poor childhood but he became a rich and successful artist and he bought his mum’s old house, and the land around it, and had the art college and gallery built. The building was eventually given to the town to be used for art education and thus we have the present-day art gallery and studios. My portrait of him will be hung in what was his mum’s front room. I hope he would have been able see something of himself in my drawing.
The drawing contains hand-written text. The lines are transcriptions from the first chapter of Cooper’s autobiography and they recall the poverty of his childhood years, various anecdotes which hint at the broader social and historical context of his time, and his repeated references to his sense of an absence of a father he never knew and who deserted the family when he was too young to have formed visual memories of him. He writes that his mum was ‘overwhelmed’ by the effort to care for her family. He also recalls his habit of walking in the countryside, alone, and how he would often feel a sense of ‘depression’ in the presence of natural beauty. On one occasion he thought he heard a voice calling “On, on; come on.”. This moment was to stay in his mind and seems to have become a kind of personal motto for him throughout the rest of his life.
I love that this man gave this building to the town for it to be used for the purposes of art education. I love that the gallery and studios he has, in effect, preserved his childhood home. If it’s possible for a building to have a personality I would say that this building is affectionate. The Classical-style entrance seems to cuddle up to the contrasting domestic architecture of his former home which now houses the front room gallery and two small offices.
All of the drawings and all of the artworks and exhibitions and chance meetings which have ever taken place there are down to the fact that this man took the trouble to have this place built. I think I like Thomas Sidney Cooper. I hope he would have liked my drawing.
The private view of Emily Peasgood’s solo show, ‘Living Sound’, will take place on Saturday 12th January between 2pm and 5pm. Come along to it if you can!