Retrospective from a great height: the wonderful mountain art of Julian Cooper

A trio of exhibitions will mark the 70th birthday this year of Britain’s foremost mountain artist, Julian Cooper.

Major shows in London and Kendal will be followed by an exhibition,  “Full Circle”, on home territory at the Heaton Cooper Studio in Grasmere.


It was in the new studio there in 1969 that his father, the painter William Heaton Cooper, had just built, that he put on the first exhibition of work by Julian who had just graduated from Goldsmiths Art College.

Almost 50 years later, his work will be the first to be shown at the re-opening of the Archive Gallery at the Grasmere studio.

The London exhibition, “Upstream”, at Art Space Gallery, who regularly show Cooper’s work, opens on April 28.  It is devoted to new paintings on the theme of going upstream from Cockermouth, Cooper’s home town, following the rivers Cocker and Derwent towards the high fells around the lakes of Loweswater, Crummock and Buttermere, and exploring the channels and sidestreams in what Cooper sees as a “contested landscape”, looking at visual traces of the tensions between the various uses of the land, including between farming and ideas of wilding the landscape.

In Kendal, the Abbot Hall Art Gallery is showing over 30 monumental paintings from Cooper’s extensive output over 45 years and reflecting the artist’s travels. While some are of the Lake District, others were inspired by journeys to South America, the Alps, the Himalayas and the quarries of Tasmania and Carrara. It will run until July 2.

Meanwhile, the Grasmere exhibition will open in June, marking Cooper’s birthday on June 10, and will run throughout the summer. This will include previously unseen work covering a range of time and subjects, including, people and urban scenes as well as mountains.

Great Gable

Great Gable, by Julian Cooper

Cooper’s father,  William Heaton Cooper (1903-1995) was a successful painter of the Lake District, as was his grandfather, Alfred Heaton Cooper (1863-1929), and his mother was the sculptor Ophelia Gordon Bell (1915-1975).

He studied Fine Art at Goldsmith’s College School of Art in the late 1960s. In a career spanning three decades, his work has ranged from narrative paintings based on Malcom Lowry’s novel “Under the Volcano” to a series of paintings about the assassination of the Brazilian union leader and environmentalist Chico Mendes in Amazonia, in 1989.


Museum, by Julian Cooper

His more recent work has been concerned with finding a relevant contemporary language for painting mountains and rock. In 2001 his “Mind has Mountains” exhibition at the Wordsworth Trust and in London showed paintings made after an expedition to the Kanchenjunga region of Nepal, noticeable was an absence of sky and a concentration on selected areas of terrain.  Whilst on-site paintings captured a superficial likeness, these paintings touched a deeper psychological one.

His solo exhibition “Cliffs of Fall” in 2004 at Art Space Gallery  showed work based on a comparative study of the North Face of the Eiger in Switzerland and the Honister Slate Mine in the English Lake District.


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