Artist Chelsea Cooper and photographer Vanilla Tupu meld minds

Artist Chelsea Cooper and photographer Vanilla Tupu meld minds ahead of their joint exhibition

Photographer Vanilla Tupu and artist Chelsea Cooper are two creatives obsessed by the past, and how the styles of the ’60 and ’70s continue to influence pop culture to the present day.

Together they’re about to put on Clockwork: A Vision of Youth in Retrograde, a joint exhibition combining their photographic and illustrative skills into a “night of art, live music, food and debauchery”. Before the exhibition takes place, we sat down with both Vanilla and Chelsea to find out how it came together.

clockwork vanilla tupu chelsea cooper
All images courtesy of Vanilla Tupu & Chelsea Cooper

Before they kick off their joint exhibition Clockwork in Sydney this February, we catch up with artist Chelsea Cooper and photographer Vanilla Tupu.

HAPPY: Hey there, how are things? What are you both up to at the moment?

CHELSEA: Hey hey! Things are amazing/crazy. Getting prepared for the big night mostly, and also moving to Tokyo a week after the show! Flat out but so keen…

VANILLA: Yep, lots of running around being done! We’ve had about a month to pull the show together, are both working full time and as Chelsea’s mentioned, she’s making the move to Japan, so pretty flat tack at the moment!

HAPPY: When did you both get started with your art?

VANILLA: I probably picked up a camera around 15 or 16? It’s a classic cliche – I had watched Almost Famous and was pretty enthralled by what I saw. I started shooting not long after that on a dinky little Canon, smuggling it in to festivals, shooting live stuff of early DMA’s and Delta Riggs and stuff like that.

CHELSEA: Ever since I can remember; I was always drawing and painting. And ever since I was exposed to Andy Warhol 10 years ago, I realised that art was my everything. People in my everyday life with a unique sense of fashion and strong character inspire me so much.

HAPPY: And how long ago did you begin working together? How did you meet?

VANILLA: It’ll be about a year now, though I’ve been aware of Chelsea for ages! I’d followed her on Instagram and always really admired her work, I thought to myself that I’d like to work with her one day! I’d been roughly planning an exhibition then saw her one day at uni and introduced myself. I was really nervous to go up to her haha.

CHELSEA: Yeah! The night of the show will probably mark roughly a year of knowing/collaborating with each other! It’s hilarious, we bumped into each other at UTS Library.

HAPPY: Tell us a little about Clockwork. How did the idea for the exhibition come together?

VANILLA: Well I’ve always been obsessed with subculture, specifically the tropes and trends that emerged in the ’60s and ’70s. Around where I live, the inner west (of course), I’ve always found it fascinating to see that a lot of my peers draw heavily on those decades to influence their own personal style, image, art and music. This was something that was solidified even more when I went travelling, a lot of the images you’ll see at the show are from the UK where these young kids live theirs lives straight out of a ’60s Rolling Stone mag, right off the set of Quadrophenia. This weird propensity for people in the modern day, to have that golden age thinking, that throwback culture, is what I wanted to explore. Chelsea’s illustrations really encapsulated that for me so it was somewhat of a perfect match, us starting to work together.

CHELSEA: Yeah absolutely! We bonded over our artistic influences, such as stylish archives and aesthetics of previous eras. We both share a love for the ’60s and ’70s; that’s when we realised that this called for a proper showdown, where we celebrated our own generation.

HAPPY: Do either of you have experience working with other artists? Is collaboration something you enjoy?

CHELSEA: I have collaborated with a couple of artists before, but never had the chance to exhibit it and host a big opening. It’s gonna be really cool to see how the event and our work will be received by the crowd.

VANILLA: I guess I’ve done some video work in a crew before, but nothing like this. Not working directly with one other person, it’s really exciting.

HAPPY: What did you learn from working with one another?

CHELSEA: Collaboration really opens your mind; it was cool to merge and organise our random ideas into one, to get Vanilla’s creative input and to have each others backs when trying to work shit out!

VANILLA: It’s definitely been wonderful to have someone to bounce ideas off, specially someone who thinks, produces things in such a similar way. It’s also nice to have someone to vent to if you’re under the pump or need some guidance haha.

HAPPY: The Gothic centrepiece for the exhibition sounds intriguing. Could you shed a little more light on that?

CHELSEA: The Gothic centrepiece was inspired by the idea of ‘honouring’ and worshipping the young generation, who live to the beat of an old drum. We’re constructing a little ‘prayer room’ for that, behind the main gallery, with moody lighting and candles.

VANILLA: Yeah the altar-piece is something that we ideated from the beginning. We wanted to look into the way that youth culture is often idolised and worshiped, but also the accompanying irony that, throughout the centuries, youth culture has been something that has been ridiculed and fought against. We’re printing three images up on calico, framed by gothic arches and having them on a central wall. It’s an homage to the past, the present and the future.

HAPPY: Are there any other aspects of Clockwork you’re super excited to unveil?

CHELSEA: Young Henrys have got behind the show so that’s exciting! Free booze for all!

VANILLA: Yeah what a dream! There’s also some really awesome musicians performing, Coconut Cream will be having their debut show. Astari, the lead singer, has been in a couple of other bands, but this is her new project and it’s sounding pretty darn good. She’s one to watch for sure. We also have the amazing Tongan Princess Kilimi playing a kick ass DJ set. The exciting thing for me is that the show is super collaborative and diverse, we’ve got musicians playing, coming from all different backgrounds and ethnicities. It’s a really really female fronted show as well, which is bloody marvellous.

CHELSEA: Besides our collaborative piece, I’m really excited to show a series that I’ve been working on the past couple months, where I merge my drawings with old iconic images and stills from famous films… I love the idea of stealing old things and giving them a fresh twist and turn.

VANILLA: Yeah, I’ve got a couple of shots of Liam Gallagher that I’m pretty excited to show! They’re behind the scenes images from one of his music videos shot in Glasgow, had to smuggle the camera in for that one hahah!

HAPPY: Looking forward to it! Thanks for the chat.


Clockwork: A Vision of Youth in Retrograde takes place on Wednesday February 6th at Vividshop in Surry Hills, with live music to be performed by BreizersCoconut Cream, and KILIMI, plus drinks provided by Young Henrys.