The Magnificent Murals of Michael Cooper
By Jim Hornsby
Michael Cooper has been a professional muralist for 22 years, and he estimates that he has painted around 300 murals during that time. You can see a good bit of his work here in Nashville, but he is nationally acclaimed, and his murals are literally found throughout the country.
He paints murals of all sizes, indoors and out, but the most prominent are undoubtedly his large outdoor walls. He recently painted a cherub 40 feet high and 60 feet wide in Cheyenne, Wyoming, and in downtown Nashville, he painted the 45 foot by 135 foot jigsaw puzzle mural at Sixth Avenue and Church Street. His next project will be a mural in Indianapolis, Indiana, 50 feet high and 150 feet long; half the length of a football field!
“There are a number of fine muralists in the Nashville area,” he says, “but none paint as large as I do. It is difficult for most painters to wrap their minds around working on such a large scale, but for me, a wall is just a big drawing board; give me a four foot level and a bunch of string, and I am good to go.”
Michael enjoys giving informal tours of local murals for visiting friends and family. “In Philadelphia there are daily bus tours of outdoor art,” he says, “and the tours, along with the sale of related books, calendars, postcards and the like, have become a significant part of its tourist industry. I believe it is only a matter of time before someone recognizes the potential of having that kind of organization in Nashville.”
His favorite style of painting is Trompe L’oeil (French for “fools the eye”), a technique that makes flat surfaces appear three dimensional. He has been influenced by American muralists Richard Haas and John Pugh, and he has traveled extensively in Italy and Spain to study the works of the old masters there. “Florence is awesome,” he recalls, “and the Vatican is a sensory overload, filled to the brim by some of the best artists the world has known. There are excellent examples of Trompe L’oeil throughout Italy; wonderful old basilicas with perfectly flat ceilings that come alive with three-dimensional domes and arches.”
Michael’s outdoor murals are designed to be optimally seen at a certain time during the day. Before painting, he studies the shadows cast by the architectural elements of a wall, and paints his faux structures and shadows to coincide with the real ones. The result is dramatic, and when that special time of day arrives, it is a challenge to tell his painted structures from the real ones. “I wish I could make my shadows move so they would be accurate all day long,” he says with a smile. “Perhaps one day I will find a way to do that.”
Painting outdoor murals is a physically and mentally demanding profession. Walls have to be cleaned and his paint (in 5 gallon buckets weighing 70 pounds each) and equipment must be hauled to the site each day. Weather is always a wild card and the danger of working on scaffolding or lifts 40 feet in the air is obvious. He has fallen on two occasions, but luckily he has escaped serious injury. His wife, Mickie, now offers a $25 reward to anyone who sees him working without a safety harness.
Despite the dangers and frustrations, Michael clearly enjoys painting murals and his work is consistently received with rave reviews. His remarkable talent and warm sense of humor charm locals and tourists alike, and he likes the public contact his murals provide. “I want to touch as many people as possible,” he explains. “Public art belongs to everyone. Lots of people see my murals, and they get a smile — a little lift — added to their day. To me that’s the most important thing of all.”
See more of Michael’s work at www.muralsandmore.com.