Eileen Cooper: Nights at the Circus
04/03/21 – 14/05/21

Little Dancer 1. Collage with linocut, etching, screenprint, monoprint and hand-colouring, 2020. 36 x 26 cm.

Eileen Cooper returns to Sims Reed Gallery with Nights at the Circus on 4th March 2021 online.

View the Online Viewing Room here.
View the Virtual Gallery Tour here.
View the Catalogue here.

Angela Carter’s novel Nights at the Circus formed the point of departure for Eileen Cooper’s forthcoming exhibition at Sims Reed Gallery. The show shares the same name as Carter’s acclaimed book published in 1984, which weaves fairy tales into magical realism – themes that frequently appear in Eileen’s work. Revisiting the novel elicited deep connections that tied Carter’s characters with imagery in Eileen’s work and subconscious. The result reveals a new body of work on paper which combines motifs inspired by the literary work and ideas drawn from her own imagination. A very personal interpretation of the story is told through Eileen’s eyes.

A colour palette is first established and paves the way for Eileen to create handmade, screenprinted papers, which are then torn, cut, layered and assembled as ‘backdrops’ or ‘stage lighting’ for the composition. This unique way of working involves a mixture of printmaking, flat expanses of colour and drawing, collaged together to produce unique works. This has become a new way of working for Eileen, a process that begun when she was creating work for her 2019 exhibition Short Stories at Sims Reed Gallery. Vibrant red, blue and ochre tones form the colour palette for the present exhibition. These colours resonate with her personal memories of the circus and create a visual ambiance for the story’s setting.

Installation image of ‘Nights at the Circus’ at Sims Reed Gallery.

“After I had a good idea of the images I wanted to use and where they fitted in the text, I established a colour palette. I prepared a large number of screenprinted flat colour backgrounds, which would be my collage material. Then I cut numerous lino blocks, printing, drawing, painting and eventually collaging it all together. It became the most incredibly flexible way to work, both physical and joyful, imagery and technique developing together.”

– Eileen Cooper

The Ring Master. Collage with linocut, monoprint, screenprint and gouache, 2019. 38 x 25.5 cm.

Angela Carter’s feminism mythology appealed to Eileen and she was particularly drawn to the protagonist Sophie Fevvers: ‘the celebrated Aerialiste, a cockney Virgin, hatched from an egg and ready to develop fully fledged wings’. Many of the female characters – including Sophie’s mother Lizzie, Minon the Princess of Abyssinia and Sybil the pet pig – resonated with Eileen. Together with their developing love stories, these elements wove their way into her work. Both her previous show (Short Stories) and the present exhibition celebrate a female heroine and the theme of performance. Whilst in Short Stories Eileen focused on Giselle, here she follows the adventures and exploits of Fevvers. The subjects of the Princess of Abyssinia and the tigers, Walser and the Bear, and Fevvers with her wings, all touch upon themes already present in her work over many years. Eileen’s engagement with the literary work allowed many pre-existing themes in her work to resurface and the result is a colourful new group of collages and prints in Nights at the Circus.

The exhibition includes twenty works on paper comprised of unique collages, monoprints and linocuts. A new linocut edition, Blue Moon, will be launched. Prices range from £600 (prints) to £1,750 (collages). The exhibition coincides with the launch of a new edition of Angela Carter’s Nights at the Circus published by the Folio Society in March 2021. The exhibition will be accompanied by a virtual exhibition, online viewing room and an audio guide with insights from the artist on the works.


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