Artist Profile: Hazel Mary Cope

ARTIST HAZEL MARY COPE DRAWS ON A WIDE RANGE OF INFLUENCES, RESULTING IN BEAUTIFUL WORKS THAT ARE WORLDS APART. ROSY LEAKE WRITES.

Hazel Mary Cope’s subject matter oscillates from misty rainforests, streams and animals to theatre towels, vomit bags and medical equipment. Having spent 46 years working as a registered nurse, with the last nine years in palliative care, Hazel has a deep interest in the subjective qualities of nursing – an interest she explores through art. Since 1996 she has worked part time as a nurse, establishing a professional art practice and completing a Doctor in Visual Arts at the Queensland College of Art aged 67. For Hazel, her two professions go hand-in-hand. Both are hands-on, expressive and require observation of subject and, according to Hazel, both are elusive. “Caring for a dying patient or observing a leaf in the bush – the mystery of life is all around me,” says the artist.

Working from her sunlit studio overlooking a national park in the Gold Coast Hinterland, Hazel has two distinct aesthetics, one being the tranquil beauty of nature, the other an informed and specific response to the objective way in which the contemporary medical industry treats the human body. Using everyday objects and materials from the medical industry such as antiseptic, Hazel uses formal strategies of repetition and de-contextualisation to transform them into provocative and poetic installations. “The body, objectified and likened to a machine, receives overwhelming attention in contrast to what the patient thinks and feels about their illness,” she notes.

While her more traditional acrylic paintings of rainforest scenes and dog portraits may seem worlds away from this sterile clinicality, themes of hope, perseverance and peace convey the emotional and distinctly human relationship between nurse and patient. The opposing binaries within her work between life and death, growth and decay, light and dark underscore the technical beauty of Hazel’s paintings with a rich and thought-provoking conceptual subtext. Hazel is currently working towards an exhibition titled Celebrate Nurses and is writing a memoir of her nursing experience, illustrated with cartoons.

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