Up In Arms :: David Cooper In Character

“I learned from early on to really pay attention to what came out naturally when I doodled on scraps of paper …” David paid attention.

With his distinctive and unforgettable illustrations, both big and bigger, he has left his ink. More recently at the Carlton Arms NYC, an artistic hotel loaded with creativity from its front desk to its walls.

David, I’m especially interested in the process of the series of wall paintings you did at the Carlton Arms Hotel. How did the project come about? 

I actually painted at the Carlton Arms Hotel on two separate occasions. Photographers James and Karla Murray invited me to work on a project with them to promote their new book, “Store Front: The Disappearing Face of New York.” After I completed that project, the hotel management invited me back to paint my own room.  

How long did it take? 

I think each room took me about two solid weeks to finish. I often slept at the hotel, so I would paint until I couldn’t see anymore, take a nap, wake up, go to my 9 to 5 job, come back to the hotel and do it all over again. It was a surreal experience. 

How did you come up with the theme?

For the “Store Front” room, the idea was for me to paint characters inspired by the book, which was filled with beautiful photographs of old New York store fronts, many of which are no longer existing. When creating the characters I tried to imagine the different types of people that may have walked into these iconic storefronts represented in the book. The music shop, the smoke shop and so on.  The Murray’s also mounted actual photographs from the book on the walls surrounding my characters to ground the whole concept.  

For the second room, which I painted on my own, I knew right away that I wanted to paint large haunting faces. That led me to the idea of creating mug shots. In preparing for the project I did a ton of research on old mug shots from the 1920’s and 1930’s. Every single person that appeared in these shots looked like serious characters. As I flipped through them I thought to my self, “what did this person do? What went wrong? How did they get caught?” I was amazed at how one single photo, in this case a mug shot, could spark so many specific kinds of questions. I wanted to create those same questions for someone else with my own characters. It was a very simple idea that I could execute rather quickly, so I went for it.

A quote from the hotel manager? 

I was recently interviewed by a quite well known magazine. Much of the interview centered on the process of selecting artists. How do we find them, what are we looking for in an artist, types of work etc. 

Along with talent, time constraints and vision we must be able to “get along”.  The artist must “play well with others” including hotel staff, guests and other artists. 

“David Cooper encompassed and exceeded all of our expectations of what a Carlton Arms artist should be.  David is extremely talented in all areas related to art. He’s a fun and amazing visual artist, intelligent and engaging. He works very well with staff and other artists going beyond his duty of imposing his vision on our walls. His first project was doing a room with other artists, big egos can get crowded in a small room but charm, good humor and a willing and helpful hand go a long way. David also “gets” the hotel art project and continues to participate in our vision. I am very fond of David and his work and am proud to consider him a friend.” – John M Ogren, Manager, Carlton Arms Hotel

Do you know of anyone who stayed in one of your rooms?

Unfortunately, I don’t. However, I do know that many people that stay at the Hotel are usually from places abroad, so hopefully my work is being spread slowly across the world by word of mouth. One can dream!  

David, really striking illustrations. Whimsical facades with a decidedly tongue-in-cheek vibe. There are double entendres embedded within the “Uninvited Portrait”. Explain?

When I was a teenager I dabbled in graffiti. I remember this one incident when I was writing on a wall in a train station and this guy charged towards me out of nowhere pointing a gun in my face. Just as I thought I was being robbed he said, “Freeze, you’re under arrest!” Turns out he was a plain cloths detective. Needless to say I got arrested and I got put through the system. No fun at all. Anyway, I remember getting my mug shot taken. As I went through this experience I felt angry, ashamed, worried and scared. Looking back on the experience I thought how interesting that photograph must have looked because of all the emotions I was feeling at the moment the picture was snapped. During my research I wondered what everyone else was going through internally as they were going through their similar experiences. For me personally, I felt like this was a moment to be left alone, yet I was forced to have my picture taken. This became the inspiration for this group of paintings and the title of the show,  “The Uninvited Portrait”.


Are these faces only a mother can love?

It would seem so.  There’s no denying the fact that all of my characters are a bit awkward, odd and funny. I learned from early on to really pay attention to what came out naturally when I doodled on scraps of paper as I talked on the phone or in my notebooks in class when I was supposed to be taking notes. I decided to go with my strengths and to develop those fundamental ideas that would eventually lead me to my own unique voice, which is an absolutely freeing experience.  

The female is all doe-eyed caught innocence. The males are stereotypical career criminals. Reasons for the obvious differences?

Honestly, I spend a lot of time drawing funny looking ugly men, which seems to come very natural to me. So, I decided to challenge my self and draw a beautiful woman in a somewhat bad situation.  As I worked on these paintings I built stories in my head about what each criminal did to be in the position of getting their mug shot taken. I imagined the female criminal was the most dangerous of them all for some reason or another.   Of course I never made these stories clear or obvious in the paintings because the idea was to give the viewer a little information and let their imaginations run wild with the rest.  

Getting to the story, one character at a time.

See more of David’s work on Altpick and his website.


About altpick connects

Established in 1992, The Alternative Pick commenced with a clear mission, providing creative buyers with a vehicle to source the best brightest and most exciting illustrators, photographers, graphic designers and animators in the business. The Alternative Pick sourcebook (1992-2005) became the outlet for cutting-edge commercial talent, offering a unique platform for artists to showcase their work. The Alternative Pick Deck (2009-2012) offered a fun and engaging format for locating leading commercial artists. In addition, The Altpick Awards (2003-2011) introduced yet another way to provide a platform for talents to shine. To meet the demands of an ever-changing industry, Altpick.com was launched in 1996 and presently provides a vehicle for talent to utilize the web to connect more effectively with buyers. As we mark our 30th anniversary in 2021, Altpick.com remains a premier source for creative professionals and we plan to continue to push the envelope providing the best vehicle for buyers to connect with creative talent.
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1 Response to Up In Arms :: David Cooper In Character

  1. Pingback: David Cooper – Altpick Connects | Illustration and Art News for Illustrators and Artists

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