Design Talk – Andy Cooperman

In Design Talk with Deb Karash she mentioned Andy Cooperman as one of two people who have had a major influence on her work. This is what she has to say about him….

About Andy, well, I adore his work, the beautiful surfaces, attention to detail, his sense of humor. As a teacher, he is a fountain of tips and information and he is so much fun to be around. His love of the field and his love of life is evident in every interaction. He’s smart, warm, honest, and generous. He’s everything I aspire to be in a teacher, though I doubt I will ever have as much technical knowledge as he has.

Andy Cooperman - Chicken Choker Necklace

Andy Cooperman – Chicken Choker neckpiece. Sterling, 14k, pearls, plastic chickens

Connie: Let’s start with wacky. Only someone with a wicked sense of humor mixes headless chickens with pearls, 14k gold, and titles it “Chicken Choker”. What role does humor play in designing your work?

Andy: Humor is central to my life and is how I experience and interpret the world, although “whacky” is not how I would characterize my sense of humor or my humorous work. That being said, there are only a handful of pieces that I’ve made that incorporate humor; for some reason, I’ve kept them pretty separate. That’s pretty funny when I think about it. Some things, like the Chicken Choker or the Ring-tisseries, are just too delicious not to make.

Andy Cooperman - Ring-tisserie Ring

Andy Cooperman – Ring-tisserie Ring. Sterling, 14k rose gold flames, 14ky, plastic chicken, copper

I like the Chicken Choker because it works for me on so many levels. The title itself is a somewhat blue or naughty pun. (I’ll let you look it up.) There’s also a second pun lurking in the background: the neck piece is a chicken choker and a pearl necklace. (I’ll let you figure that one out as well.) Puns can be complex and sophisticated. In the case of this piece, the power lies in the knowing and the not-knowing. For those who understand the puns involved there’s a risqué chuckle. For those who don’t, there’s an unsettling discomfort when and if they see that others are smiling at something they’re just not getting. They are out of the loop. The next level of discomfort emerges when those who are in the know have to decide if—and how—they will share the information and clue the others in. It’s all in the reveal. As the pun underlying the choker reveals itself these balls of discomfort are lobbed into alternate courts. It’s really delicious. I’ve just seen it happen when I showed a class of adults—one a retired psychiatrist—an image of the piece. They all smiled but some had never encountered the euphemism. The retired psychiatrist was especially surprised that he had never come across the terms Choking the Chicken or Pearl Necklace. It’s this type of reveal that I envision when I first think about making a piece like the choker and it’s what drives me to turn the idea into an object. That being said, I really try to make a humorous piece elegant and well made. The joke underlying the piece is great but in order for the piece to remain engaging, it should work on other levels. And there’s something powerful when high craft is in service to something as low-brow-shtick as a rubber chicken. With the Ring-tisserie the delight is immediate but the high level of craft makes it special.

Connie: Hmmm, “choking the chicken” and “pearl necklace”….. I’ll look it up after having tea with Madam Palm and her five sisters.

Connie: What people or experiences have had a major influence upon you as a maker?

Andy Cooperman - Coeur Brooch

Andy Cooperman – Coeur brooch. Sterling, brass, gold, ping pong ball, velvet

Andy: There are people who I really admire for how they work and how they conduct themselves. I can name several who I admire especially for their omnivorous and honest approach to being a maker. They just live it. No pretense, no slavish devotion to a particular medium. They just make. I love that.

Connie: You seem to have an open door policy when it comes to choosing materials for your work. Does an object inspire the design or do you design and search for the proper object? Is there a particular quality you are looking for when choosing non-precious materials?

Andy: The door may not be as open as you think… I do keep my eyes peeled for any possible material but, obviously, it has to resonate. And once a material rings my bell, it has to be vetted for workability and durability. I want what I build to survive—unless failure is part of the ideation behind the piece. It’s something that I talk about a lot in my Imaginative Captures class.

Andy Cooperman - Masonic Ring

Andy Cooperman – Masonic Ring. Sterling, 14k, copper rivets, copal

I look for materials that have a history that I can play against or are in some way “vital”. I also like an enigmatic quality. Like the ping pong balls: They are translucent and have a shell or membrane-like quality. They are also workable. And there’s the reveal. People are drawn to them as enigmatic objects and are then visibly taken aback when they learn what they really are…

Connie: Connected to the above question is my interest in your story behind a creation. Do you begin with the story, such as the life of mason bees (Masonic Ring) and then set out to create a piece of jewelry? Do you ever find yourself midstream making a piece and a story is revealed to you?

Andy: Here’s my artist’s statement:

Minds are like flypaper, at least mine is. All sorts of strange and unpredictable things get stuck to it. Beautiful things, unsavory things; commonplace things glimpsed from a different angle or new perspective. It could be a phrase or a new material, or maybe something so ugly and funky that it becomes beautiful. A little factoid or obscure detail can thrash around in the glue until it wriggles in and begins to itch and fester. Whatever it is, it’s something that I need to pull off the sticky brain-paper and talk about. Making is my way to understand; to reconcile and respond, to pry things open, peer inside and eventually share my observations. In the end, it boils down to this: some things simply must be made. It’s the only way I can scratch the itch.

Andy Cooperman - Sleeper Cell Brooch

Andy Cooperman – Sleeper Cell brooch. Sterling, wood, gold leaf

So there really is no consistent way that I go about making. With Hymenoptera I was looking at bees, wasps and hornets, I’ve always had an interest in insects and for some reason my mind and eye kept coming back to nests and combs and the differing habits among the order. The hierarchy and industry, for instance, was metaphoric, as was the solitary nature of mason bees. This stuff just kept coming up and I started to build work around it. The notion of a wood element supporting some sort of small, metal parasitic structure just drifted across my mind (Potter and Sleeper Cell) but the details of construction and design took some time and unfolded while I was making the work.

Andy Cooperman - Potter Brooch

Andy Cooperman – Potter brooch. Sterling, gold, wood

I draw a lot to work out an idea or details of gesture or engineering, but rarely the whole piece. The frequent exception is custom and commissioned work where the drawings communicate an idea to a client.

Connie: And this question follows from the last. Are you primarily a planner, working faithfully and consciously on what you set out to do? Or, does your work at times stem from less conscious, spontaneous forces?

Andy: There is always room for mid-course corrections. I much prefer a loosely planned road trip to the forced march of a specific itinerary. My work has been characterized as jazz in the way that I leave room for improvisation or riffing on a basic theme.

Andy Cooperman - Cushion Brooch

Andy Cooperman – Cushion brooch. Sterling, 14k rose gold, coper spiral, opal, diamonds

Sometimes I establish a basic element or theme spontaneously and the respond to or around that. Check out Cushion Brooch on my website.

Connie: Nature seems to be a significant inspiration for your jewelry. But, then there are ping-pong balls and taxidermy eyes. Is there an underlying thematic connection that runs through your work? Besides nature, what inspires your creative juices?

Andy: I see a vital quality in the ping pong balls, copal, etc. that dovetails with my interest in biology and ecology. But it’s more about histories, implied histories or creating a fiction.

The strip of sticky flypaper is the consistent thread…

Andy Cooperman - Cinch Wall Piece

Andy Cooperman – Cinch wall piece. Copper, bronze, brass, sterling, mild steel

Connie: Does teaching connect with your life as a designer/maker or do you see the two as separate entities?

Andy: I suppose that the two are blended but it’s hard to say how… I always bring work to sell so they are intertwined on that level but I am always careful to not make a class or workshop about sales. As I work in my studio and my process unfolds I do find myself at certain points breaking it down into instructive chunks and even figuring out how to explain, present or demonstrate it—how to phrase things in an understandable way—to a student. “Oh, yeah, this is super cool I gotta add this to a demo.”

Connie: How much of teaching is about helping students to develop their own design aesthetic? How do you go about establishing a creative environment for them?

Andy Cooperman - In & Out Brooch

Andy Cooperman – In & Out brooch. Sterling, bronze, copper, brass, gold leaf, ping pong ball

Andy: I try to free people up. Not to give them permission but get them to give themselves permission. I tend to be less involved with a student’s design aesthetic focusing more on helping them to liberate their internal and innate problem solver. Developing and nourishing the skills to define and understand problems can help any artist/maker resolve a myriad of issues regarding design, and execution. I really want to help students learn to see what they are making and own what they see. And to loosen up and think outside of the box, book and classroom.

Connie: Why jewelry?

Andy: Good question—great question. I ask myself that all the time…

Andy Cooperman - Sting Brooch

Andy Cooperman – Sting brooch. Sterling, brass, gold leaf, copper, ping pong ball

Connie: One of the worst fears we share as jewelry makers is the possible loss of our vision. Sadly, you have had to go through the experience of two detached retinas, 5-6 surgeries and the resulting vision impairment. How has this frightening experience affected you as a jewelry maker/designer?

Andy: Well, obviously, I had to decide if I could still make—anything. Once I figured out that I could work around things I had to decide if I wanted to continue to make jewelry. I’m still not completely sure. I have trouble seeing certain things and depth presents certain problems.
Andy Cooperman - Specula Wall Piece

Andy Cooperman – Specula wall piece. Bronze, sterling, brass, mild steel, copper, silver, glass

But I think that I am okay in large part. I think that I have recommitted to making. My experience may also have made me a better teacher, more patient and understanding of limitations. I definitely understand that time and ability can be short and that you never know when either will run out…

Connie: Readers, you might be interested in watching this film titled, Andy Cooperman The Metalsmith: A Short Film by Dan McComb –

Connie: Is there anything about your work you want to share with people? For example, pieces that are currently for sale, new work, classes you teach, website link, blog, etc.

Andy Cooperman - Specula Wall Piece Detail

Andy Cooperman – Specula Wall Piece Detail. Bronze, sterling, brass, mild steel, copper, silver, glass

Andy: Generally, anything that someone sees on that doesn’t have a red dot is for sale. I would love for people to remember that I enjoy making custom and commissioned work, even over long distance. Oh yeah—I hope that people remember that I also work bigger: objects and sculpture.


All images and text are ©Copyright 2010-2013 Connie Fox except where indicated. All rights reserved. Andy Cooperman images in this post are copyright Andy Cooperman.

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  1. Thanks Jonna for your comment. I know how much you admire Andy’s work. His dual creative strengths of writing and making jewelry are so similar to your own.

  2. Jan Spencley

     /  August 12, 2013

    Thank you. Very interesting interview. Had to look up one of those terms…who knew that his chicken necklace had all that depth.

  3. Great interview with Andy. I have been a big fan of his inspirational work for some time. His designs are so inventive and his use of nontraditional materials is so unusual.

  4. Kathy Oxford

     /  August 12, 2013

    Another wonderful interview Connie—his responses are so dense and personal, I will need to read this a few times to get it all. BTW-any teenage boy on your block (or a high school teacher) can explain “choking the chicken” for you. This is certainly publishable beyond your blog…let us know when you begin taking requests! Kath

  5. Thank you for sharing this. I love Andy’s work and always enjoy the thoughtful way he expresses himself. Got a kick out of both of your senses of humor. Great interview!!!

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