13 November 1998

INSPIRED ART OF RURAL

MICHAEL Coopers finely-detailed paintings travel well. They are hung in such diverse places as a sheep station in Australia and the Attorney Generals house on the Falklands.

"Three of my last five

pictures went to America and the most unusual destination was New Guinea," says Michael. "One print of mine was taken as a present to India and the chap it was bought for already had it!"

His quintessentially-English rural scenes are a little bit of home for people living abroad, it seems. "People dont have to know the farm or that exact building but the picture triggers memory trips for them to go down," he says.

Michael knows what he is talking about for he meets the public daily in his studio at Clarks Village, Street, Somerset. It seems an odd place for him to work but 75,000 people have climbed the stairs to his first floor studio in the past two years. He hears their comments and is told many a story of days past on the farm. He even gets regulars who study his pictures and bring in friends to point out the fine detail. One of these is a chap who particularly likes the painting Charlies Workshop, a great barn, now gone, that was stuffed with some 70 years of rubbish.

"He came in and said, Do you know theres a petrol can in the corner of that picture?" chuckles Michael. He has a soft spot for eccentrics and has a touch of this trait himself for he wears two pairs of glasses at once.

"Its my

see-through double-glazing," he says, eyes twinkling behind the lenses.

His pictures show old farm buildings, cottages, gardens and machinery.

"Barns need recording before they disappear and cottages of character are disappearing under double glazing and B&Q patios," he says.

"Buildings and textures are most important to me, then tractors with their worn paint and worn out bodies. I paint

things most people take for granted and perhaps pass by every day without noticing."

He is securing a niche for painting David Brown tractors. "Its a make other artists havent done," he says. His picture Tired Out showing a David Brown D25 is proving almost as popular as The Old Major, his picture of a Fordson Major E27N looking in need of a lot of care and attention.

"Sometimes when I paint an old tractor, it spurs the owner into doing it up," says Michael, who has even had people want to buy the tractor along with his painting of it.

His original works sell from £700 to £3000. Prints cost from £36 (unframed) to £145 framed. All are a far cry from one of his early sales before he turned professional. At the time he was working on a farm – following a recession in his previous career in publishing. "I painted a picture of my bosss farm and spent an afternoon trying to get him to pay me for it. He tossed me for it and ended up paying £7.50. Ten years later it was worth £750," says Michael. He spent eight years working on the farm then he had a terrible car accident which involved all his family. His wife Sue was particularly badly-injured and he couldnt work as she had to be looked after for two years.

By 1984, with the help of the Enterprise Allowance, he was able to become a full-time artist and he set up a studio in the old part of Street. He worked on brochures and other commercial work, and painted street scenes which sold locally. "My accountant said you can make a living if you paint three-a-day. I realised then I would not make money from street scenes," he recalls.

He moved to painting bigger pictures of buildings and used to show them to publishers he knew. One said "farmyard pictures are identifiable to you" and Michael began to specialise. At first cow parsley could always be spotted in his work, now it is a cockerel that has become a trade-mark.

He used to work out in the field but now his work has become so detailed, he takes loads of photographs to use as reference back in the studio. "I dont paint from the photos, I use them to help build up the picture I had in my head the day I saw the scene," he says. Initially he makes lots of sketches and then finishes one he is happy with. This is drawn up to size and traced down onto thick (400lb) quality paper. He draws in very fine ink detail, paints using watercolour on fine brushes and touches up with ink at the very end. "It might take 10 or more drawings to get one picture right," he says. "It took me a day to get a slightly-deflated tyre on a Land Rover quite right."

The Land Rover picture Seen Better Days (£100 framed) was painted to mark the 50th anniversary of the vehicle.

"I try to make my paintings technically correct for the enthusiast and nice enough for the rest of the family to enjoy. I think most art is too unapproachable. Art has to be user-friendly. There is so much rubbish talked about it and modern art is so elitist. Artists used to be tradesmen and used to have patrons," says Michael, who is pleased at the reaction he gets from people when they look at his work.

"Its lovely to see the look on peoples faces when they go off on their memory trips," he says.

Inquiries: (01458-445742).

There is something familiar

about Michael Coopers

paintings and it is the

essential Englishness

of his rural scenes

that makes

them popular

with buyers at

home and abroad.

Tessa Gates

visited his

Somerset studio

ENGLAND