Cecil Cooper was one of the first students to graduate from the Jamaica School of Arts diploma programme in 1966. During his time there he was taught by artists such as Barrington Watson, who was then Director of Studies and Head of the Painting Department, Karl Parboosingh, Vernal Reuben and Milton Harley and Albert Huie who was the ‘artist in residence’. In those days he gravitated towards a style incorporating an expressive realism. His peers were Christopher Gonzalez, Winston Patrick, Kofi Kayiga and Gene Pearson who would all become respected artists in their own right. It was time of great ferment as a new generation of independent Jamaica became aware of their black identities and shared sympathies with the bourgeoning civil rights and black power movements in the US. But Cecil Cooper’s talents were not restricted to the visual arts and these debates, his talents as a classical musician exposed him to European forms also, and it was on the basis of these skills that he was awarded a scholarship by the Jamaican Government to study music in New York. Once there, his twin interests vied and he took the decision to attend the Art Students League, where he studied under the African-American abstract expressionist Norman Lewis. A few years later, he attended the School of Visual Arts where he obtained his Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree in 1976.Cecil began his professional career as a fine artist exhibiting in New York galleries, but in 1980 he returned to Jamaica intent on making a national contribution by teaching painting at the Jamaica School of Art.
It is significant that since that time he has been the Head of the Painting Department at the EMCVPA guiding and influencing numerous students. As a teacher inspired by the vibrancy of the Jamaican art world, it is no coincidence that successful contemporary artists like Robert ‘African’ Cookhorne, Douglas Wallace, Valentine Fairclough, Stanford Watson were among his early graduates.In much the same vein, Cooper’s work has become increasingly expressive, his style has moved from a mythical symbolism towards imagery that is deeply rooted in personal experience. The figure, once so prominent in his painting, has become distorted and abstracted. As he matures, Coopers interests have become more clearly defined and his imagery more compelling.PA-S