In May 2015, the Royal Academy of Arts will present the largest exhibition of drawings by Eileen Cooper RA to date spanning almost 40 years of her career. Whilst Cooper is best known for her richly coloured and expressive paintings and prints, Hide and Seek will present rarely-seen drawings made in a variety of media including charcoal, pencil, pastel and ink, exploring the themes of play, family, childhood and womanhood.

Throughout her career, Cooper’s work has contained a strong autobiographical element and this is reflected in her early drawings such as Bathing, 1987. Sometimes described as a ‘magical realist’ Cooper creates work with a poetic and distinctive vision; a sense of freedom of movement is explored in the Trapeze series, while the notion of play and games can be seen particularly in Treehouse II, 1990. The themes of sexuality, birth and motherhood, which were considered ground-breaking at the times these works were produced, are presented in these early works and recur throughout the exhibition.

The exhibition will display to the public for the first time a collection of 10 drawings which Eileen Cooper has gifted to the Royal Academy. Produced in 2001, these ‘gift works’ feature Cooper’s trademark female figures, fleshed out in charcoal and ink. The fluidity and rawness of the charcoal combines with Cooper’s delicate imagery to produce drawings that are simultaneously bold and tender. She says ‘I believe that the act of drawing lays bare my working methods, enabling me to explore and celebrate the visual clues latent in these works’.

Eileen Cooper has strong ties to both the Royal Academy and the RA Schools. She became a Royal Academician in 2000 and was elected as the Keeper of the Royal Academy in 2010, the first woman in this role since the Academy began in 1768. Born in 1953 in Glossop, Derbyshire, Cooper studied at Goldsmiths College from 1971-1974 and was taught by fellow Royal Academicians Michael Craig Martin and Albert Irvin. She went on to study at the Royal College of Art and by the 1980s was exhibiting widely. Cooper is strongly committed to a part-time teaching career at the RA Schools, in addition to Central St Martins and the Royal College of Art. Footage of the creation of several new works in her studio will be available to view in the exhibition and online to coincide with this celebration of 40 years of her drawings.