Cooper's drawings pull light out of the dark

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What: Opening reception for work by Karen Cooper When: 6 to 9 p.m. Saturday Where: TEI Fine Art in the Torian Plum Plaza Call: 879-2240

In some cases, Karen Cooper's drawings are as simple as a series of well-placed lines, drawn as she traces the path of light on a face or body. She works with pastels against a thick, black background, and it's the interplay of light and dark that give Cooper's work its voice.

Cooper's discovery of her signature black paper took years to find but was the end of a long artistic process. Since high school, Cooper had worked on scratchboards where a nail or knife is used to carve a drawing into a pre-inked surface. The effect is a white drawing against a black background.

"I loved to bring images out of the dark," Cooper said. "They were partial images, and my drawings were all about finding the highlights and searching for the pattern that was in the light. It was almost mysterious."

She discovered the black paper when she found herself trying to draw an image that was too colorful to do on a scratchboard.

She searched for a black paper until she found one with the texture of sand paper, made for holding pastels.

"It changed my world," she said. "Seriously. I was doing printmaking and sculpture, and I was a tapestry weaver. I was trying to find my focus."

The pastels on paper offered her all the challenges she needed combined with the textured aesthetic she was searching for.

"Catch Me If You Can" is a drawing of three horses, rendered with a few simple lines.

"They were kind of glowing in a backlit way," she said. "This (drawing) was an experiment."

Though Cooper has been making art since she was young, focusing on an art career is a relatively new thing. Art was less of a priority when she married and then divorced.

"I was a single mom with two children," she said. "I had to go into the work world. I pursued business for 10 years."

In 1997, she forced herself to do an art workshop, and in 1998 went to Ghost Ranch in New Mexico for a pastel class.

"It got me going again," she said. "I've been doing it full-time since March two years ago."

Cooper's latest body of work focuses on the Native American dancers she saw at the 21st annual Gathering of Nations, the 2004 Powwow in Albuquerque.

More than 300 dancers participated from nations all around the world.

The images she brought back are a flurry of color and movement.

"Creating motion was a real challenge," she said. "What I'm trying to capture is their demeanor. They're so proud, and I wanted to capture all that energy."

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