Visual arts world makes way for Sama Cooper

Sama Cooper stands before one of her portrait series at Katoomba's Street Art Walk in September 2021. Photo: Matthew Cooper/supplied.

Emerging visual artist Sama Cooper received her first professional commission in 2020 at the age of just 18 and is now majoring in painting at the National Art School. She brushed some time out of her busy schedule to chat with youth editor Corin Shearston about her art practice.

“I want to use visual arts to brighten the world around me and make others happy,” says Sama Cooper, a 20-year-old creative powerhouse from Katoomba in the Blue Mountains. 

Two years ago, Sama received her first major professional commission at the age of 18, while completing her Year 12 studies at Katoomba High School. Around the same time, her ink portrait series, Sonder, was accepted for inclusion in the online component of the highly competitive ARTEXPRESS exhibition, which showcases exemplary artworks created by NSW visual arts students studying for their HSC.

Sonder by Sama Cooper. Photo: Art Gallery of NSW.

Sama was one of just 50 artists whose pieces were showcased online, out of 8,552 applicants. 

Her inclusion in ARTEXPRESS led to further opportunities, including more professional commissions. Sama received some of her new commissions while she was already working on a series of paintings in a stairwell at Katoomba High School, displaying a photo-realistic acrylic paint collection of people from around the world.

Now, Sama is in her second year of Bachelor of Fine Art at the National Art School in Sydney, where she’s majoring in painting. Her CV of street artworks now includes three more Katoomba pieces, located in Froma Lane near the Blue Mountains Cultural Centre and within the tourist town’s Street Art Walk.

Sama with some of her latest pieces, at the National Art School in Sydney. Photo: Erin Murphy/supplied.

And while Sama is mainly focusing on her degree at present, she’s very excited to be commencing more works for her old high school in the near future.

Explaining her plans to The Sentinel, Sama describes how she’ll be seeking opinions from Katoomba High School’s staff and students about what they’d like to see in their hallways, so she can encourage more community involvement in her arts process.

“This will be important for making a connection between my work and the audience of the school”, she explains. “It’s great to get my hometown involved, especially at the school I graduated from.”

Sama’s plans for her upcoming pieces involve painting portraits of inspiring historical figures, corresponding to their respective faculty spaces, (for example, William Shakespeare near the English rooms, or Joan Jett in the music zone). 

Sama Cooper interviewed by the Blue Mountains Cultural Centre in 2020 about her large public mural of a female rock climber. Video: Blue Mountains Cultural Centre/YouTube.

Sama also loves painting portraits of her friends and family, trying to display the essence of their personalities in her art.

“I have a camera that I use to take photos for references,” she explains. “It’s especially rewarding to paint people I know … I get so much joy for sharing my art and including people in it”.

Discussing her current style, Sama explains, “I’m mostly interested in people as my subjects but I also love animals … I’m trying to get into more landscapes too, which are fun, but they’re a big challenge.”

As luck would have it, Sama’s mother Meredith Cooper is a full time Australian landscape artist.

“[My mum] always inspired and encouraged my love for art,” Sama says. “I grew up having access to heaps of art materials and expert advice for whatever phase of craft I was into.”

A wolf illustration made by Sama at the age of 13. Photo: Meredith Cooper/Facebook.

Sama’s two older sisters also pursue creative paths; one works towards a career in fashion and another focuses on animation and filmmaking.

Sama explains that her Bachelor of Fine Art major is focused around pushing the limits of painting as a medium, although she is still fond of the traditional aspects of her practice.

A recent sunset cloud painting by Sama Cooper.
Photo: Sama Cooper/Facebook.

Developing skills in sculpture and large scale outdoor murals are also among her current goals, although she also likes making pieces out of new materials on a whim when the urge strikes.

“I’m thoroughly dedicated to art and want it to be my full time career,” she says.

“I’m really grateful to be in a situation where I’m [studying while] already doing art as a full time job.” 

Sama Cooper’s rock climber mural, located in Froma Lane near Blue Mountains Cultural Centre, Katoomba. Photo: The Carrington Hotel/Facebook.

Although Sama’s degree is currently her main focus, she remains open to new opportunities while striving to develop her art practice across new methods, mediums and locations.

“I want to bring people together and share [in] the experiences and lives of others,” she says.

Corin Shearston is the youth editor of the Sydney Sentinel.

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