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Born in Pilsley, North East Derbyshire, Cooper studied at the University for the Creative Arts. He also achieved a PhD degree at Middlesex University. He was a member of the Crafts Council and the editor of Ceramic Review. Since 1999, he was visiting Professor of Ceramics and Glass at the Royal College of Art. He was the author of many books on ceramics, including his definitive biography of Bernard Leach that was published in 2003 (Yale University Press), and was also the editor of The Ceramics Book, published in 2006.
In the early 1970s, he was also a cofounder of the Gay Left collective, and remained a prominent LGBT rights campaigner throughout his life. He also published several studies of LGBT art, including The Sexual Perspective and Fully Exposed: The Male Nude in Photography.
As a potter, Cooper's work falls into one of two general forms. In the first his vessels are heavily glazed in a volcanic form. The vessels, as a result of this heavy glazing, derive a lot of their appeal from their varied and uneven textures. In their most simple form they are very reminiscent of work by Lucie Rie. In their more extravagant forms though the vessels can be banded or use incredibly vivid colors to great effect including pink, vibrant yellow and deep reds and blues. His other form of work is much simpler in style using plain glazes, often in egg yolk yellow, occasionally spotted with gold flecks.
Cooper died on 21 January 2012.
- "Emmanuel Cooper obituary". The Guardian, 30 January 2012.
- Who's Who in Art: Biographies of Leading Men and Women in the World of Art. Havant, England: Art Trade Press. 2000. p. 116. ISBN 978-0-900083-18-1. OCLC 44865001.
- "Emmanuel Cooper OBE". University for the Creative Arts, UK. Retrieved 25 October 2011.