Jess Riva Cooper ( she/her )

Artist Statement

In my art practice, I integrate color, drawing and clay to create figurative sculptures and installation-based artwork. I challenge preconceived boundaries, embracing porous natures and re-constituted selves. As I create, I work in an invasive, even parasitic way - using fired pieces, and scavenged and broken remnants of sculptures. These intrusive pieces pierce the soft clay skin of my figures, building upon the fired surfaces. The finished result captures a static moment of tension and the intersection of humans, objects, and nature. 

As the grandchild of Holocaust survivors, I uncover ancestral tales and histories that were nearly eradicated. I draw upon the myths of Dybbuk spirits in Yiddish folklore, reinterpreting these traditional stories of spirit possession and dislocation through a feminist lens. My investigation of malevolent Dybbuk spirits that take over the human body parallels my interest in insidious plant life. In each case, the parasitic entity subsumes the host. In this way, my work incorporates both death and regeneration. 

In my work, ceramic busts and sculptures that were once pure and pristine become hardly recognizable. They are overgrown with plant life. Their heads grow leaves instead of hair, and their skin is punctured with fruiting vines. Faces scream out in pain – or perhaps pleasure – in the midst of transformation. Nature, often representing life, instead becomes a parable for an alternative state – one where life and death intersect.


Toronto artist Jess Riva Cooper makes sculptures where nature reclaims human spaces and objects. Cooper exhibits internationally, including residencies at Medalta, Archie Bray Foundation, and Kohler Arts/Industry Program. She holds a BFA from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design and an MFA from the Rhode Island School of Design.