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Carl Cooper
, 1945-46

by Arthur Boyd

oil on canvas laid on masonite (frame: 84.0 cm x 72.5 cm, support: 74.5 cm x 63.0 cm)

Carl Cooper (1912-1966) was a ceramic decorator associated with the influential Boyd family. In the mid-1940s, he worked with Merric Boyd and John Perceval at AMB pottery, near the Boyd family home and studios ‘Open Country’ in Murrumbeena, just outside Melbourne. Cooper’s earthenware pieces were incised or painted in designs often influenced by Aboriginal bark paintings. Each day, Arthur Boyd’s brother David would push Cooper’s wheelchair to the pottery, Cooper having lost the use of his legs from poliomyelitis contracted in his twenties. A turbulent force within this prolific creative community, Arthur Boyd recollected Cooper as a ‘dissatisfied, fierce, crushed’ figure; ‘he’d have terrible fights with people . . . throw things and lash out at anyone.’ This psychologically intense portrait rigidly set against a dark sky conveys Cooper’s deep mental and physical discomfort. Cooper eventually set up his own studio, but illness forced him to cease production in 1963.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Bequest of Alan Boxer 2014
Accession number: 2014.72