Lisa Cooper is a name sought after by everyone from Toni Maticevksi, Tiffany & Co. and the Museum of Contemporary Art, to Romance Was Born and the Sydney Theatre Company. Her work has graced the pages of Vogue Living, Harper’s Bazaar, Manuscript, Marie Claire and Grazia, while her signature floral works are commissioned by some of Sydney’s biggest names in the business and arts world.
But who is she and what exactly does she do? Well, the Manly-born, 38-year-old is a graduate of Sydney’s College of Fine Arts, where she completed a Masters and then PhD in video portraiture. Her label, or professional name, is the somewhat enigmatic Doctor Cooper.
Indeed, trying to put your finger on exactly what Cooper does is more problematic. “I’m an artist and florist,” Cooper says simply. True, she is an accomplished artist and regularly exhibits her video art, sculptures (mostly triple gold plated and precious metal garden sculptures) and paintings, many of which are commissioned or pre-purchased by her regular stable of Australian and international admirers. She is also an acclaimed jeweller and, in a previous professional life, created a successful line of eclectic pieces under her label, The Butcher’s Daughter.
But if there is one driving force behind who Cooper is and what she does that requires no clarification whatsoever, it’s that she’s absolutely mad for nature. Specifically, flowers. She spent five years working for Grandiflora in Potts Point while she was studying. It proved a seminal time, as it wasn’t until she’d immersed her creative mind in the world of flowers that the artistic possibilities opened up.
“I loved it,” she says. “I’d worked with flowers in my art before Grandiflora, but never considered it as a line of work. Flowers are really just another medium for composition and a metaphor for concepts. I fell in love with flowers.”
In fact her obsession with flowers goes way back. For as long as she can remember, a framed portrait of St Theresa of Lisieux, the patron saint of florists, has hung above her bed. She doesn’t know its exact provenance, but has seen photos of the very portrait in her great grandmother’s house. Cooper has carried it with her throughout her life.
Indeed, flowers seem to inform and influence everything she works on, no matter what the medium or art form. “They’re a potent metaphor; as individual elements they have [particular] meanings. They also have this amazing capacity to help us understand the experience of living.”
Cooper’s handiwork was recently thrust into the spotlight after Manuscript’s creative director Jolyon Mason put her in touch with fashion designer Maticevski, who gave her a loose brief to create seven flower handbags for his models to carry down the catwalk at Mercedes Benz Fashion Week at Carriageworks. The exquisite fresh carnation clutches sent the press into overdrive. It didn’t hurt that Cooper had also been asked to design 80 bunches of flowers for the exclusive front row guests to take home with them. Dion Lee, Club 21 and Manning Cartell are others who have commissioned Cooper to add her signature touch.
Cooper’s designs were before a different but equally influential crowd when she was commissioned to create custom designed gold sculptures for the opening of Tiffany & Co.’s Bondi Junction store in February, a commission that was micro-managed from the jeweller’s New York headquarters and which Cooper describes as “a game changer”.
And it isn’t just sculpture and fashion that have caught people’s eye. The Sydney Theatre Company regularly relies on Cooper’s creations for its productions and events, be it the symbolic gold crown that graced the heads of Cate Blanchett, Pamela Rabe and Ewen Leslie in the extraordinary 2009 Sydney Festival epic War of the Roses, or the delightful decadence of a stage amassed with flowers, which Cooper helped designer Alice Babidge and director Benedict Andrews realise for the STC’s current, critically acclaimed show The Maids, also starring Blanchett and rising star Elizabeth Debicki.
Despite all the glamour of the shows, productions and labels she has designed for, it comes as a surprise to hear what really fires her up: her commercial floral business, also known as Doctor Cooper. “I love it, I love it, I love it!” she enthuses. “I’ll send a bunch of violets, if that’s what people want. I think people think I’m untouchable but I’m not. [What I do] is bespoke, but that’s a good thing.”