Working outside the studio, or outside the commercial boundaries of a studio, must be challenging when you are running a business full-time, financially as well as the extra expense of energy!
The studio is deliberately small for that reason - to allow flexibility, for me to be able to travel and do other things. It is only me and Uriah Gray. To travel, to change your location and work from different environments is a reaction to complacency. It can become difficult to notice change and new things within familiar surrounds. Travel is good for opening your eyes, reinvigorating you, making everything new again. Last year I was in New York and Los Angeles for 6 months working on a few different projects-
For American clients, or Coöp studio work?
Both. I collaborated with, Karim Zariffa, on a cover for the New York Times magazine. After that I worked on a few projects with Axel Peemoeller. These collaborations were the impetus for going over there but, while there, I tried to extend my stay for as long as possible to focus on personal work. This time was valuable for me - it allowed me to generate new ideas, reflect, think and contemplate. It's the learning from these types of sabbaticals that shape your future thinking. The time in Indonesia with Stefan was an opportunity to be completely removed from the normal working space. The bookstores and the art galleries in Ubud were awful but all that was a fortunate happenstance because it allowed me to draw inspiration from alternate sources and gave me time to immerse myself in my work. Right now, we are running the studio at about 60% client work, and 40% self-initiated work.
Is that a structure that came from the idea of taking 'sabbaticals'? Are you incorporating the freedom from their experiences into your working practice?
It is - but I started out in visual arts then moved into graphic design. I was initially doing sculpture and drawing and I think it's more to do with still having this desire to explore my own interests and personal expression - which isn't as appropriate with commissioned work when you are talking through your client.
Is it more than just the removal of a familiar environment?
It's all experience, it's the feeling of being uncomfortable. Removing yourself from your day to day comforts is confronting but also stimulating.
Like being a graduate again
Yes - and that feeling of comfort is often why we start to produce mediocre work. It's all a little too safe. It's good to feel unsure and experience unfamiliarity.
Are these projects always collaborations?
Not always. A few of the projects I am working on now are more personal than collaborative. The things I am examining are a reaction to design being a problem solving exercise because I don't always have the answers. It's nice to just pose or formulate a question and discuss it and I think that's more what I am interested in with my personal work.
And not necessarily 'graphic'?
Not really - the work still has graphic sensibilities but there is an artistic energy because it is exploring myself and my personal experiences.
Does this feed back into your work? More than just refreshing your thinking, has it broadened your working practice?
Yes I think so - I think I have always believed in the idea of play and experimentation, and that is something that is inherent in all the self- initiated work.
Coöp's work appears to celebrate an experimental journey. The depth of thinking, the structure, is always apparent.
We look to build a framework and allow a part of the outcome to be informed by intuition, experimentation and play.
How important is the use of intuition in your work?
The concept and idea generation is research-based but when you are in the creating phase, you need to be able to use and trust your intuition. And that's where experimentation enters our work. In recent projects, like the identity for the Victorian College of the Arts, it was about building something that was dynamic, something that could evolve into different forms. In this project we set up a framework for the client that actually gave them the opportunity to experiment and explore. I like that we didn't provide a final answer.
Keeping it open-ended, for the possibility of natural development, or even revisiting it later?
Yes - and through their experimentation it can take a shape that we couldn't predict but still within the framework that was set.
One of the self-initiated pieces you did while in Indonesia was the series of paint and fruit/vegetables. Is the work you are doing now related to this?
One of the projects I am doing now is Still Life In Motion. Again, it's setting up the parameters and celebrating the chain of events linked to what might happen when these objects and materials move and interact with one another. It's a similar medium to the paint and fruit work - exploring a series of 'still life' works which is an interest that comes from studying sculpture. I still enjoy playing with form, tactility... The other project I am working on at the moment is a series on hard rubbish - re-ordering and re-contextualising hard rubbish - again in a sculptural form. It's something I have investigated through commercial work as well like the identity for the Rooftop Cinema. I like running a studio that doesn't have a distinctive line between the commercial work and the self-initiated work, that has a blurred boundary, and there is an exposure of the process. It attracts those who think similarly.
When did you find that working this way had become important to you?
I think it started when I had gained some confidence in what I was doing. When I first moved into design, it wasn't a natural transition, it was a reaction to art. I wanted something more pragmatic, more vocational, maybe I was struggling with art being so open and perhaps not feeling like I had much to say. And now I am more comfortable with the idea of examining and expressing my own thoughts. It was about 3 years ago when I went to Indonesia which was a changing moment. My thinking, my way of working had become tired and predictable and I needed to shake it up. I had been working 6 years at that point - not that long but long enough to feel bored in what I was doing. It really has been the last 2 - 3 years where I feel I have changed the way I work and my approach. But certainly confidence and experience has a lot to do with it. I have learnt a lot from those I have collaborated with. It's all still a learning and evolving process. But I guess it will always be.
Photography by Paul Fuog and Double Days.