With an illustrious career as an artist, well known for her strong and passionate figuration, Eileen Cooper was the first woman to be elected as Keeper of the Royal Academy of the Arts in London (2010-17) and to have held this post since the Academy’s foundation in 1768. Eileen is a prolific painter, draughtswoman and printmaker and this exhibition focuses on new collage works on paper and monoprints which draw on the female body in motion.

Eileen’s bold and distinctive imagery brings a refreshing female perspective to her subject matter. Sometimes described as a magic realist, her vision is allegorical and storytelling a foremost theme. The figure of a woman plays a leading role as a heroine, goddess of myth, lover, mother and dancer. Eileen brings sensitivity to these strong, female forms; her concerns and experiences are as relevant and timeless as those of the human spirit itself. Her strong drawing with fluid simplified lines and colourful compositions make her work immediately recognisable.

These striking images draw on movement and Eileen’s interest in the female body in motion. Inspired by Akram Khan’s contemporary choreography from the iconic ballet Giselle, she captures the power and energy of Khan’s style – a unique fusion of classical ballet and Indian Kathak dance – but places her strong female protagonist in a new setting, creating her own vision of the story.

“I’m always motivated by the female experience and many of these new collages are closely linked to my experience of drawing at the English National Ballet during 2016-17.”

Weaving storytelling throughout her work in Short Stories, the figures portrayed evoke Eileen’s memories of tales and fables. The landscapes are imbued with colour-streaked skies, the passing of days with rising dawns and fading dusks. The show focuses on collages, which have been important to Eileen’s practice for over twenty years. Unlike some artists who use found material to create collages, the source of the material is always derived from her own work, with elements of figures and landscapes from past linocuts including Rosa Solo (2018) and the Giselle series. This technique has now become part of her practice. For her, the process of cutting, tearing and assembling allows her to work in a more abstract way, using flat areas of colour to build a scene.

“In thinking about a body of work for Sims Reed Gallery, bearing in mind that it is an established print gallery, I was keen to use a low-tech, print-based approach, linking these collages to print and drawing, a little removed from the meticulous way that I work towards editions. It allowed me a little bit more movement and playfulness, which I find liberating and expressive. I chose not to use a print studio, rather preferring to make the work in the more intimate space of my painting studio. It feels like exploring printmaking on the edges or the margins of a subject. I also introduced a monoprinting element – a new feature to the collages.”