Under the title Doctor Cooper, Lisa Cooper’s romantic and extravagant floral creations have become instantly recognisable. Striking sawn winter branches grace our favourite cafes, and her signature posies of poppies in violet and cream decorate the most decadent dinner tables. Her velvety red roses wrapped in white are a sumptuous Valentine’s gesture. She sent garland-masked models down the runway for Toni Maticevski, and orchestrated a rainfall of roses over Cate Blanchett for Sydney Theatre Company.
Cooper is an artist working with the medium of flowers, and not simply an artistically talented florist. Originally operating out of a nook in a St Peters warehouse, this month Cooper has found a new home for her studio practice, securing a residency in Carriageworks’ creative precinct.
Cooper’s workspace will be the studio at Carriageworks, but there is opportunity for her floral creativity to flourish out and into the cavernous halls of the Redfern arts venue. “[Carriageworks’ artistic director] Lisa Havilah and I have talked about ways for my work to expand and develop within the residency,” Cooper says. “The physical environment lends itself to suspension and scale and where these opportunities exist I will usually oblige.” Cooper will also populate the public areas of Carriageworks with her flowers.
As well as her work with theatre and fashion, Cooper has collaborated with The Australian Ballet, Tiffany & Co., the Museum of Contemporary Art and Joseph Allen Shea of Gallery A.S. More recently she created a candle in collaboration with Elise Pioch of Maison Balzac. Cooper’s Carriageworks residency perhaps signals the next phase of her flower practice. “I think for one the scale of my work will be influenced by the scale of the architectural environment and by the more public setting,” she says.
Over the years, Cooper’s projects have continued to spiral into the sublime and the spectacularly surreal. At Toni Maticevski’s autumn/winter 2015 presentation, models held delicate blossoms in glass orbs – but there was more to the flowers than met the eye. In collaboration with fashion designer and stylist Jolyon Mason, Cooper created what she calls “Future Flowers”. “The media called them orchids, but what they actually were was hybridised cyclamen,” Cooper explains. Each was crafted by carefully wiring individual flowers together to create one new flower. “They appeared seamless, as if they were a grafted specimen. The work itself was a technical feat, I hand-gilded the largest composition, which had the effect of pushing the result further into some future where flowers might be hybridised to grow in 24-carat gold.”
Cooper completed a masters in fine art and Ph.D. in philosophy. She has produced gilded flower crowns under the title The Butcher’s Daughter and exhibited painting and video works. When asked if she intends to branch back into other artistic mediums, Cooper replies, “The flowers are my medium. I have come to realise that with the flowers I am able to paint, sculpt, draw image and metaphor, and that is all I need to be able to do.”
On the horizon for the artist is a second scented candle created with Maison Balzac, a flower sculpture to be installed in Lane 4 at The Galleries in Sydney’s CBD and the release of her book, The Flowers. She relates the process of developing the book to writing her doctorate thesis, but adds, “The words that make up my thesis were summoned necessarily by my intellect; the words in The Flowers were summoned also necessarily by my heart.”