From Bowie to Nick Cave, Costello’s teddy to Morrissey’s chin, Simon Cooper captures rock icons in caricature at Pocklington show

Chin up, Morrissey: The Smiths, as portrayed by Simon Cooper

EAST Yorkshire illustrator Simon Cooper has worked for NME, Time Out, the Radio Times and Punch magazines.

Now, he has launched an exhibition of original art, illustrations and prints at Pocklington Arts Centre (PAC) that will run in the Studio until January 6.

On show are many of his commissions for NME (New Musical Express, as was), inspired by Simon’s lifelong love of music. 

“Music has always been an important part of my life,” he says.” For as long as I can remember I’ve immersed myself in records, live shows and the music press. When I got my degree in illustration and started to work for Sounds and NME, it was my dream gig.”

Knuckling down: Elvis Costello teaches teddy a lesson, by Simon Cooper

He ended up working for the two rock music weeklies for almost 20 years, producing hundreds of illustrations during that time. 

“The first two pictures were of Malcolm McLaren and the Beastie Boys and the last two were of Super Furry Animals and Manic Street Preachers,” he says. 

Simon, who lives in Everingham, near Pocklington, had graduated from Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art, in Dundee, before moving to London to pursue his career as an illustrator.

“My four years at art college, surrounded by like-minded creative types, were particularly inspiring and motivating,” he says. 

Beastie Boys: Simon Cooper’s first illustration for New Musical Express

He worked almost exclusively for magazines before going on to illustrate many children’s books for Pan Macmillan, Penguin and Oxford University Press, among others.

Simon names Chuck Jones, Ronald Searle, Rene Magritte, Henri Matisse and Marc Chagall among his artistic inspirations, alongside his penchant for comic books. “I’ve always had a love of comics and cartoons and consequently my style usually errs in that direction,” he says.  

His latest piece, The Owl And The Pussycat, is his favourite new work among the collection in PAC’s Studio. “It’s got music, romance and a dreamlike quality,” reasons Simon, who now focuses on independent projects, creating artwork and illustrations for sale at galleries, art shows and through his online shop at etsy.com/uk/shop/Cooperillo. 

Illustrator and caricaturist Simon Cooper

Here CharlesHutchPress puts quick questions to Simon Cooper for sketch-quick answers.

Why did you first choose musicians for your subject matter as opposed to film stars, comedians, politicians?

“Because music was my first love and it will be my last. Music of the future and music of the past. [Editor: Spot the reference to John Miles’s grandiose 1976 top three hit Music]. 

How did you settle on your distinctive style of illustrations? Trial and error? Gradually? 

“A bit of both. My style develops all the time. I’m inspired and influenced by new things every day.” 

Has your style changed over the years?

“My style, the way I work and the way I see things, has changed a lot over the years. These days most of my work has a digital element but when I started, I only used pencil, ink and paint.”

Cave art: Simon Cooper’s illustration of Bad Seeds frontman Nick Cave

What do you like most about black-and-white caricatures?

“I’m so old that when I first started working for the music press they were only printing in black and white! I had to develop a style that looked bold in newsprint. I still enjoy doing the occasional black-and-white image – like my recent Nick Cave picture – although most of my work now is in full colour.” 

What do you like most about colour caricatures?

“Working in colour allows me to use more textures and take a more painterly approach.” 

What source material do you work from? Moving imagery? Photographs?

“It would be nice to have the musicians come and sit for me but I have to make do with looking at their photos while listening to their music!”

Rubberband girl: Kate Bush, at a stretch, by Simon Cooper

What have musicians said about your depictions of them? Have you had face-to-face encounters with any of them?!

“Sadly no face-to-face encounters, unless you count seeing them in a live performance, though I have had positive feedback from musicians via magazine editors and one or two phone calls and emails from the artists themselves.” 

Your tone is generally light-hearted and humorous? Why?

“It’s perhaps what separated my work from everyone else’s at art college. I’ve always preferred to include humour or visual puns in my work rather than any lofty narrative.” 

How did you first land commissions with NME and Sounds?

“I left Dundee College of Art and headed to London with my portfolio under my arm. I knocked on doors and asked for appointments with art editors of my favourite magazines. I’m probably making it sound easier than it was, but I think my timing was right and the humorous element worked to my advantage.”  

Space odyssey: Simon Cooper’s David Bowie

What have been the career highlights of your other illustrative work?

“I’ve won a couple of awards for children’s book covers for Pan Macmillan. 

“I’ve been lucky enough to get a lot of commissions over the years from high-profile magazines such as Punch, Radio Times, Time Out. 

“I’ve worked for the British Film Institute’s magazine Sight And Sound for the past ten years. That’s been an absolute pleasure as film is another of my passions.”  

How have Chuck Jones, Ronald Searle, Rene Magritte, Henri Matisse and Marc Chagall inspired you? Humour? Playfulness? Artistic style?

“Chuck Jones and Ronald Searle’s humour, Magritte’s playfulness and Chagall and Matisse’s artistic style.” 

Do you have a favourite among your music portraits? If so, which one and why?

“Tom Waits, because I’m a huge fan. Years ago, I was commissioned by Sounds magazine to produce a picture of him. I happened to have tickets to see him that night at Hammersmith Odeon. I went to the gig, which was magnificent. I went straight home, feeling very inspired, finished the picture and delivered it to Sounds the very next morning.” 

Tom Waits: Simon Cooper’s favourite among his music portraits

What are you working on at present?

“I’m just finishing a Led Zeppelin picture. Another of my all-time favourites.”

How would you sum up your Pocklington show?

“Plenty of aesthetically pleasing images, a hint of quirky humour and a slice of rock’n’roll nostalgia for music fans.” 

This feature runs to 1,034 words. Can a picture say more than 1,000 words?

“Yes, give or take a few hundred words.”

Simon Cooper: Art, Illustration & Prints, Pocklington Arts Centre, until January 6 2022. Admission is free during opening hours only. For more information, visit pocklingtonartscentre.co.uk or call the box office on 01759 301547.

Simon Cooper’s poster for his Pocklington Arts Centre exhibition

Morrissey, Leeds and a dog chain combine in arena gig and album release

The album artwork for Morrissey’s March 20 album, I Am Not A Dog On A Chain

MORRISSEY will preview his new album, I Am Not A Dog On A Chain, at Leeds First Direct Arena on March 6.

This will be the northern marrow to his one southern gig, The SSE Arena, Wembley, London on March 14.

Released on March 20 on BMG, the album will be preceded by the single Bobby, Don’t You Think They Know?, featuring guest vocals by Seventies’ Motown legend Thelma Houston.

“One of the biggest joys for me in this business is getting the opportunity to collaborate with other top artists,” says Thelma, now 73. “I love the challenge to see if what I do can work with what they’re doing.

“Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. I think the blend of what Morrissey is singing and what I’m singing really works on ‘Bobby’. And it was a lot of fun working with Morrissey in the studio too!”

Produced by Joe Chicarelli, whose credits include Beck, The Strokes and The Killers, I Am Not A Dog On A Chain was recorded at Studio La Fabrique in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, France, and Sunset Sound in Hollywood, California.

“I’ve now produced four studio albums for Morrissey,” says Chicarelli. “This is his boldest and most adventurous album yet. He has pushed the boundaries yet again, both musically and lyrically. And once again proving that as a songwriter and singer, he is in his own category. In truth, no one can be Morrissey but… Morrissey.”

I Am Not A Dog On A Chain follows last May’s California Son, a covers album that featured Ed Droste, of Grizzly Bear, Billie Joe Armstrong, of Green Day, LP (aka Laura Pergolizzi), Broken Social Scene’s Ariel Engle, Petra Haden and Young The Giant’s Sameer Gadhia.

Morrissey’s last album of original compositions was Low In High School in 2017. The new one has a track listing of Jim Jim Falls; Love Is On Its Way Out; Bobby, Don’t You Think They Know?; I Am Not A Dog On A Chain; What Kind Of People Live In These Houses?; Knockabout World; Darling, I Hug A Pillow; Once I Saw The River Clean; The Truth About Ruth; The Secret Of Music and My Hurling Days Are Done.

I Am Not A Dog On A Chain arrives against the backdrop of The Smiths’ former frontman, 60, sparking controversy with his latter-day political views.

Tickets for his Morrissey Live In Concert 2020 gig in Leeds are on sale at gigsandtours.com, ticketmaster.co.uk and axscom/uk.