As an anonymous street artist, Emerson Cooper has spent many years in the shadows, plastering intricately collaged posters on the streets of New York for all to see. While the artist’s true identity remains unknown, he recently debuted a selection of artworks at Muriel Guépin Gallery, where he was celebrated in his first-ever gallery show under this pseudonym. Featured in “Mending the Labyrinth,” Cooper’s mixed-media works took on a different life in this new context.
Like the artist himself, the Victorian-era portraits that form the basis of his work are wrapped in mystery. On top of found images—Victorian cabinet cards and vintage photographs of stoic, posed men and women—Cooper develops mixed-media collages of shapes, numbers, drawings, threads, and even digital manipulations. The cards, albumen prints from the 19th century, date back to a time that was also known for Freud’s psychoanalytical theories and the widespread fascination with “freak shows.” Cooper’s transformation of these cards constitutes visual meditations on identity and the human psyche, invested with psychological undertones. Man 5’s foundational ground, for example, is a photograph of a calm young, dark-haired man, which Cooper covers with a contrasting optical network of spots, dots, and stitches of thread that are scattered throughout the composition in a frenzy, suggesting a contrast between physical and psychological states. In another work, Woman with Red Face, Cooper colored the subject’s face bright red and wound thread from the edges of the photograph to the edges of her form, visually binding her to the card and raising questions around her mental state.
By combining found photographs and his own material constructions, Cooper visually and conceptually bridges the present with the historical developments of psychoanalysis and photography, and in some sense they “repair the universe” in which his overlooked subjects have fallen into oblivion.