John Cooper was born in Merthyr and studied Painting and Stained glass 1949 - 1956 at Swansea School of Art, becoming Assistant Curator at the Glynn Vivian before entering teaching. He participated in a number of important group exhibitions through the 1950's and early 1960's, including 'Young Contemporaries' at Chenil Galleries, Chelsea, London in 1953. He is considered a member of that distinct group of Welsh painters that have become known as the "Naïve Realists". Since his retirement from teaching in 1998 he has been able to once again exhibit more widely.
"My early influences were Heinz Koppel, the German Expressionist, who taught at Dowlais during the late forties and early fifties and my father Frederick Cooper who was a student of his for some years. My working experiences as a teenager were in the offices of the eminent architect Tristan Edwards and this stimulated my interest in the urban and industrial environs of Merthyr and the adjoining valleys. George Fairley was later to provide much guidance and encouragement.
During my formative years as a painter, I was one of a number of artists for whom "the ordinary life in Welsh urban and industrial communities had become a subject many artists viewed enthusiastically". This urban and industrial landscape of the South Wales valleys with their characteristic hill-top triangular shapes of by-gone coal tips are often unconsciously echoed in the middle distance and foreground of my pictures, in the form of gable ended rows of terraced houses and the variegated architectural facades of old Welsh chapels; now sadly bingo halls or gyms.
I do not feel that any of the main media that I employ i.e. acrylic, pen and ink, pastel, and charcoal, singly or combined have any direct influence in my choice of subject matter, but are a means to an end. Outdoor drawing and painting plus digital photography together with many trips down memory lane play an important part in the formation of my picture making ideas."