Dan Cooper and I were hanging at one of his favorite hangouts, Alibi’s Grill, on Indy’s northeast side, when I noticed something strange. Cooper had just handed me a flyer with the info for his upcoming show at the Jewish Community Center entitled “Spiritual Journey” – that opens Sept. 9 at the JCC Art Gallery – when I happened to spot a vintage Bob and Tom poster dating from the ‘80s on the wall.
And then I noticed that one of the men portrayed in his flyer painting “Jacob’s Dream” is a dead ringer for Bob Kevoian. The other man in the painting might be mistaken at a distance for Tom Griswold. But these are not the aforementioned WFBQ morning show personalities. They’re actually Cooper’s brothers; in the painting both of them are conjoined, like branches, and their bodies below the abdomen merge into a tree rooted in the soil against the backdrop of a yellow sky.
The one who resembles Bob is his brother Les, dressed in red, while the other resembles more his brother Ron, dressed in blue. Les is reaching out, arms parallel to the soil, as if he’s diving for a football. Meanwhile Ron is reaching upward towards the sky while beside them something that looks like a double helix twirls upwards into the sky.
The title for this painting is “Jacob’s Dream” – which doesn’t have anything to do with Bob & Tom, of course – but rather the biblical story of Jacob and his brother.
“Les is portraying Esau,” says Cooper. “Ron is portraying Jacob. Jacob was a real whiney mommy’s boy. Esau, on the other hand, was a real down to earth good old boy. It was real easy to relate him to that character…. Esau was a hunter and a farmer. Everybody liked him. Les is a really mechanically inclined, really friendly guy who can do a lot of different stuff with his hands and so he’s obviously wanting to go in a different direction. Jacob’s got his little dream thing on, but Esau’s got his own world. And Jacob and Esau, Many times in religious studies it is talked about that they are a metaphor for the inner conflict that we all have; two different personalities, different aspects of the same individual.”
Cooper—who was born in 1952 in Greensburg, IN.—often finds himself painting landscapes where faith and science intersect. So it figures that, in this acrylic on canvas painting, Jacob’s ladder is represented as a strand of DNA with a distinctive double helix.
Cooper was in the first group of 12 artists to be involved with the Religion, Spirituality, and Arts Initiative headed by Rabbi Sandy Sasso through Butler University and Christian Theological Seminary.
“At our first show with the RSA artists, I got to meet Lev Rothenberg [Director of Arts and Education at the JCC], and he ended up visiting the studio…. A show was born.”
The JCC Art Gallery poses unique challenges – since sunlight often floods the long hallway in which the gallery is located but Cooper will be making the best of it in order to highlight certain aspects of his painting that require proper illumination in order to be seen.
“This will be the first show that I may have three paintings that I’ll be able to control the angle so the invisible elements show up,” he says. “I’m having to do some custom hanging to be able to take advantage of those windows because the walls at the JCC are 34 degree angles off parallel to the windows.”
(Maybe this goes to show that Cooper is both a handyman like Esau and a dreamer like Jacob.)
Cooper has spent quite a bit of time not only working on his own art but also improving the Indy art scene. He was a founding member, and then president, of the Coalition of Indianapolis Artists, a precursor of the Arts Council of Indianapolis which he helped to found. In his work as an artists’ advocate, he has always been a proponent for artists being paid for their work – rather than being asked to contribute their work for free to various nonprofits – and an opponent of outrageous fees for art shows.
Cooper has also contributed his time to the Indianapolis Downtown Artists and Dealer’s Association (IDADA) with videography of various events among other activities. (He currently teaches a video production class at the Indianapolis Art Center.)
And then there is yet another show that he is looking forward to.
In coordination with the Religion and Spirituality and the Arts initiative, Cooper is preparing for the “Wrestling with the Infinite,” show, addressing the subject of transcendence, that will take place at the Indianapolis Artsgarden on Nov.7, part of the Spirit and Place Festival.
On the topic of transcendence, he’s done quite a bit of research, finding many like-minded artists with the help of Google, and finding –at this point in time – they remain unaffiliated with one another.
“There’s more art being done contemporarily on the subject of transcendence than at any time in history,” he says.
Exhibition runs: September 9 (Wednesday) - October 23 (Friday)
Artist reception: Thu, Sep 10, 5:30-7 pm
Where: Arthur M. Glick Jewish Community Center