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Creator of the Week: Poppy Cookson @poppykathleen

Poppy Cookson is a 24-year-old multimedia artist based in Bootle, Millom.

Poppy creates a variety of thought-provoking and visually exciting art that ranges from printmaking to collage, sculpture and installation. She is deeply inspired by nature, animals and the non-human other and there is often the topic of activism present in her work.

In addition to her stunning work, Poppy won the Eden Arts UK Young Cumbrian Artist of the Year award in 2019. The Young Cumbrian Artist of the Year award is in partnership with the University of Cumbria and provides young Cumbrians with the opportunity to have their work showcased professionally at an exhibition and receive recognition for their excellence.

We caught up with Poppy to discuss her future plans and goals, her journey with art so far and her interest in activism…

Artwork by Poppy Cookson
Flora's Desire (2020) An artwork from Blackwell's Climart exhibition.

Tell us about your journey with art so far, what first drew you to it and what place does it have within your life?

For as long as I can remember, I have always enjoyed the arts, and always wanted to be an artist. I studied Art, Photography, Music and Drama, always painting and participating in singing groups and theatre outside of school. I studied Literature, Media and Art at college, going on to study Fine Art at the University of Cumbria. I graduated with a BA 1st Class Honours in 2019.

Growing up in a rural area, I loved being out in nature, helping on the farm or gardens, and being around animals, and these are themes I explore through my art.

How would you describe your art style?

Throughout my art career I’ve used a range of mediums to create my work. My favourites are printmaking, collage, sculpture, film, mixed media, and installation. I use these methods for many reasons. Collage, for example, is accessible and recyclable, which is important to me from an ecological perspective, and as an artist.

What inspires and influences you as an artist?

I am often inspired by nature and animals, and the non-human other has been a big influence for me over the last few years. I also find a lot of peace in creating and have worked through a lot of hard times using my art.

I’m really influenced by the community of creatives I have built, finding a lot of inspiration by sharing my work with like-minded individuals, receiving feedback and talking about ideas as groups and communities of artists. Being among artists makes me feel like I belong somewhere. Especially throughout university, I really found my people.

We think it is such an amazing achievement that you won the Young Cumbrian Artist of the Year Award 2019, could you tell us about that experience?

Thank you! It was quite a turning point for my career. This even took place in the middle of my final year of university, so I took the opportunity to test all of my ideas and push myself hard. I had submitted 3 works, consisting of a large collage poster, short film, and film installation. The work really paid off. I made lots of contacts, gained a lot of confidence in myself and my work, and went on to participate in more opportunities almost instantly.

After this I won the Hadfield Trust Creative Travel Award 2019, which allowed me to travel to the Venice Biennale in the summer of 2019. I was offered a residency by the University for a further year, which was cut short in 2020 due to Covid. Part of the YCAotYA award was a week’s residency at the Old Fire Station in Penrith, which I thankfully completed before Covid.

Land of Hope and Glory (2018) Poster from the Young Cumbrian Artist exhibition 2019.

Does activism always play a part in your creation process?

Activism is a common theme in my work, but not always. Not all of my art is activism, but all of my art is political. Carol Hanisch wrote in 1969, “the personal is political”; what interests you (whether or not you’re an artist), affects you and is you (gay/straight/white/black/working class etc) is political. In this context, the political is the context of where the artist comes from, when the art was made and the socio-political climate of the artist’s experience.

When activism is featured heavily in my work, I like to draw on the ideas of my friends and peers on the topics I’m covering, such as climate destruction, or intensive factory farming. For example, a recent project I worked on was with Blackwell Arts and Crafts House in Windermere, called ‘The Arts and Crafts of Politics’. This was held with various schools from the local area, with people involved from ages six through to university level. This started with meeting the other schools and hearing their ideas and local solutions to the climate crisis and creating a series of works in response.

The children used activism-based methods or creating works, making signs to then be used in protest, as well as songs written and performed by the children themselves. In the same vein, I looked at the ideas discussed in the beginning of the project. I decided to follow the activist poster style, as well as the re-usable and green approach to creating collage works and handmade paper for the exhibition. Within this project there was an overall feeling of community participation, which really came across through the works an exhibition. Working with communities like this is just another form of art as activism.

'I find a lot of peace in creating and have worked through a lot of hard times using my art.'

Do you have a favourite piece or project that you have created so far?

My favourite project was the Young Cumbria Artist of the Year exhibition for sure. All of the work just paid off so well, it gave me a lot of new insights into my work from people like the judges, and really set the tone for my final year and the start of my career.

Poppy with her winning installation (2019)

What are your future plans and goals for yourself and your art career?

I actually have some exciting collaborations coming up soon with an artist found group called Artemix, based in London. This is a project called ‘The Chain’, and this is based on the game Chinese Whispers, with more of an artistic twist. The idea is that groups of artists are formed, and each artist creates a work in response to the last. The original theme is announced at the end of the project, which we are hoping (Covid permitting) will end with a physical exhibition.

I’ve also been working on EP artwork for a good friend and musician I grew up with, Ebony Grace. I’ve been working with Ebony and her commissioned pieces for a few years now. Ebony is a Cumbrian artist who has been pursuing her career in Brighton for the last few years, she is definitely worth looking up if you would like to support local artists further!

Be sure to follow Poppy on her social media to keep up with her art. Poppy is also currently open to commissions.

You can check out the YCAofY award here.

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