Joao Coppa: “Art has no age”

Art, Interviews, Sculpture

This week is your last chance to catch the Roots & Rifts show at the Espacio Gallery. I caught up with one of the artists, Joao Coppa, who is 82 years old and still going strong. He’s even learnt to use Photoshop.


Joao; you’ve been a practicing artist for a bloody impressive amount of time. Where did it all start?

Since I was a child, growing up in a family of Italian immigrants in 1930’s Sao Paulo, I have been in love with cartoons. The Brazilian and Italian cartoonists in local newspapers were responsible for my first experiments with pencil and paper. I was also curious about the golden age of American animation, which was in its heyday at the time.

When I was 16, somebody gave to me the book “Black Point” by the Spanish writer Eduardo Zamacois. The main character in that book is a famous painter, and ever since that I was sure that I had to be an artist. I fell in love with books, even though to read books in those days was a “upper class” activity and not expected of a working class boy like me. It made such an impression that I still have the same book to this day.


You’ve lived through a lot of important historical moments – have these influenced your work at any point?

The Sputnik satellite, which was launched in 1957, was a big part of my work in the 60s; it was the Sputnik era. I am completely fascinated by the universe and space travel, and science fiction books by the likes of Issac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke. The philosophy behind a lot of my work is to try to get into this amazing space that exists between light and shadows, time and space.

I had this dramatic view about what space could become in future years. I imagined all our rubbish being thrown out into space, like a satellite. I chose many different car engine parts, and tried to picture them floating in the sky. I thought about our planet’s resources reaching their drastic limit, and ending up being thrown out of the planet like it is not our problem any more. But back in those days, I couldn’t have imagined that it would get this fancy name like ‘sustainability!’


A lot of your work has a graphic quality – have you embraced modern materials, or do you prefer to stick to pencil and paper?

I took my Photoshop and Corel-draw basic courses when I was 78 years old; I am trying to switch from the pencil and paper to the mouse! I love the computers – the internet is a fantastic new universe and I’m currently working on a new series where I am mixing both worlds.  In particular in my stainless steel series, I have used computers for practical things like injecting ink and cutting material. But it always starts with pen and paper. I am old-fashioned about the way I design; I use what I know, and that is the pure drawing techniques.

What’s your must-see piece at the Espacio show, and why?

My favourite is the biggest one;  a print on stainless steel called “Inoxury (Lux 21)” [above].  I think symmetry and balance are perfect in that work. This series is in stainless steel not only to diversify the techniques and materials I use, but because it says something about life in 2012.

I have lived in so many different times since the 30s, politically, socially and economically. I called the work “Inoxury”, because of the global economic crisis: the inox is the formal French name for the finest stainless steel. I wanted to suggest that, if you can still eat with your inox knife and fork, you are lucky. We have to be careful and look after our loved ones, polishing our relationships and remembering that friends and family are forever, like stainless steel. To have both pictures of friends and family and stainless steel cutlery in your home is an “Inoxury” in 2012.


Have you got any art-related wisdom you’ve picked up over the years that you’d like to share with us?

When we throw our souls in to space, they return bringing back a bit of heaven and hell. Every artist puts a lot of themselves in to every work, and I have found that the key to my work is balance; I try not to let it be more aggressive than it needs to be. 

Since the 50s when I saw my first MAD magazine, I have understood the humour in art. I have been influenced by all the abstract-modernism-cubism art ideas, but the cartoon artists (Segio Aragones and Don Martin in particular) and political ideology have left the biggest impression on my work.

Today, street art has a huge value as a method of expressing the artist’s politics, so even Banksy is a fantastic source of “new-old” ideas for me. Time has made me more open to trying new mediums. Freedom is a word that makes more sense with age. The older you get, the more free you become. I don’t think or feel that I am 82 years old, and it is because art has no age.

Finally; you’ve definitely put the hours in as an artist – are you thinking of throwing in the towel any time soon? I hear Eastbourne is nice this time of year…

I will stop when death knocks on my door.

Roots & Rifts is at the Espacio Gallery on Bethnal Green Road, every day from 1pm-7pm until June 3

If you are an artist and would like to be interviewed for this blog, contact me at


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