Jess Riva Cooper’s ceramic sculptures are as beautiful as they are disgusting. Her works have the viewer going back and forth between pleasure and revulsion, creating a welcome confusion to be examined. This juxtaposition of attractive and off-putting elements is not a new phenomenon in art – think Jessica Harrison’s ceramic women, and whose work we’ve featured on Beautiful/Decay – and although her artwork is also similarly violent, the aggression is expressed quite differently. Cooper’s busts are overtaken by plants, leaves, and sometimes bugs, which are often gagging or otherwise obstructing the female’s sensory capacities. The plants grow from the women’s heads, the leaves with an almost leech-like gesture extend out with determination.
It’s painful to see the women bound by nature in this way, also because, as a bust, they are without arms or hands to defend themselves. She renders the women with a great deal of skill, their expressions soft and subtle. In her artist statement she speaks about nature reclaiming its place and “a loss of control…as the parasitic entity subsumes the host” as well as her interest in sculpting the figure as a way to illustrate “physical and emotional vulnerability of the individual.” She addresses these themes plainly in her work, which is what makes it so successful and enjoyable.