Black is beautiful!

Fine artist, April Cooper, celebrates Black women in solo exhibit

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Artist April Cooper will show her work in a solo exhibit at Starbucks at Front and Warren Streets in Trenton, for the entire month of January. The exhibit is curated by C.a. Shofed, known locally and internationally for his photographs that treat buildings and other subjects with an artist’s eye for abstract patterns, shapes, and colors.

Ms. Cooper is a Trenton native, born in 1985. She has returned here, where most of her family lives, after living for years in Maryland. She has made art her focus since age 11, and during high school enrolled in the elite studio art track, which she credits as a formative experience. She recalls Michael Morris, a favorite high school art teacher in Maryland, who was both tough and inspiring. Morris was a role model who made a strong impression on his students. Cooper and her friends recall him fondly with a chuckle about how he would critique their work: “This is crap!” But she credits him for his high standards and moving her along on the track that brought her to her career as an artist. She went on to study art and pursued a degree at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, a historically Black university located in Princess Anne, Maryland.

Currently she creates art in acrylics, oils, watercolors, and resin, and has been fluent in digital art since 2019. She has sold her art to clients across the U.S. and internationally. She is active with social media with her engaging TikTok videos and also enjoys teaching art online: “Teaching is exciting because you’re around people who want to learn.”

April grew up in a household where her mother would do hair to earn an income. She draws inspiration from her mother’s work in hair care, and the place of natural hair styles as an expression of pride in the African-American community. Cooper loves to create art and depicts images of Black women in art “because representation in the world is a necessity.” Cooper’s growth in the world of Black art has interwoven the element of natural hair among the Black community—what she refers to as the “transformational process of hair.” Her use of Black women in a variety of colors, mediums and hairstyles challenge the boundaries and reflect the relationship with Black women and their hair. While hair is a recurring motif in her art, the viewer draws an overall sense of pride in other elements such as facial expressions and poses of her figures in colorful settings.

Cooper refers to the “art gene” as both a blessing and a curse. “I sleep with a pencil and paper by me because ideas for a work of art can strike at any time.” Cooper is inspired by the work of a number of artists, in particular Kehinde Wiley, currently best known for his portrait of Barack Obama. Wiley often combines a rich, naturalistic treatment of African-American human subjects with a stylized background pattern. His influence is clear in a number of Cooper’s works: her oil “Proud in My Pattern” shows a wonderfully painted young Black woman in a regal pose, wearing a crown and holding a scepter, against a leaf pattern in the background.

Both Cooper and C.a. Shofed are enthusiastic about the robust life of the arts here in Trenton, and C.a. curates exhibits at several locations in Trenton and surrounding areas. As a tightly-knit community, Trenton is home to many overlapping circles of people who thrive in the cultural environment nourished by Ellarslie, Passage Theatre, and other venues such as the Trenton Social and the Mill Hill Saloon. “If you know the right 10 people, you can really plug into the art scene here,” says C.a. When asked about building her art career in Trenton, Cooper is optimistic: “I’m able to work as a full-time artist. It’s a small city, but there are a lot of opportunities here for artists.”

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