Inspired by Shakespeare, an English Painter Meditates on Love and Fleeting Passion

In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare described the magical powers of a flower called love-in-idleness: “The juice of it on sleeping eyelids laid will make or man or woman madly dote upon the next live creature that it sees.”

This flower, better known to modern audiences as a wild pansy, is the inspiration for Eileen Cooper’s new show, “Love-In-Idleness,” now on view at Rook & Raven in London. Cooper is a fan of the play’s setting in a dark, enchanted forest and of its larger themes in general—love, infatuation, heartbreak, and the fleeting nature of passion. These subjects, along with related themes like motherhood and mortality, have long been crucial to Cooper’s practice, including this latest body of work.

The titular work is conventionally romantic, depicting a man and a woman—he’s naked, she’s clothed—tumbling in a thicket of vines and sumptuous white flowers, gazing rapturously at one another. Other works, however, hint at struggle, as in the dark Willow (2016), or exude subtle tension, like In the Moment (2015). As in Love-In-Idleness, the latter piece focuses on a man and a woman locking eyes, yet there’s a sense of anxiety. Dressed in a diaphanous slip next to a flowering plant, the woman stands across from a fully clothed man, his hands grasping a watering can. He’s wide-eyed, perhaps nervous. Is he distracting himself with the practical task of watering a plant so as to avoid interaction with the woman?

Cooper’s vivid, expressive oils call to mind the works of Paul Gauguin or Diego Rivera. But in spirit, they probably have more in common with the work of Rivera’s longtime partner, the Mexican painter Frida Kahlo. Like Kahlo, Cooper is concerned with the feminine experience—the pains and pleasures, both physical and emotional, that characterize a woman’s life.

Cooper calls the show “a new beginning”—perhaps a suggestion that life is a series of successes and failures, inevitable endings and new beginnings, and it’s only a matter of time before each cycle ends and repeats itself.


Bridget Gleeson


Love-In-Idleness” is on view at Rook & Raven, London, Mar. 17–Jun. 5, 2016.

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