Allison B. Cooke | Artist of the Week

Throughout her thirty-year teaching career at the college level, Allison B. Cooke taught myriad drawing and painting studio courses at the Milwaukee Art Museum, the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design and was a tenured Senior Lecturer in the Department of Art and Design housed in the Peck School of the Arts at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. 

For twelve consecutive summers, Allison served as the Director and Adjunct Professor for a Study Abroad program, offered through the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, at the Santa Reparata International School of Art in Florence, Italy. She developed and taught an intensive four-week summer course in Renaissance Painting techniques. This course explored the use of dry pigments, homemade egg tempera paint, and myriad gold leaf techniques found in both traditional and contemporary studio practice.

She is now a full-time artist and works out of two studios. Allison paints in a well-seasoned attic in their old Victorian home, but most days in a spacious studio within a commercial building in the Lincoln Warehouse next to the Kinnickinnic River in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. At the present, Allison is represented by seven galleries across the United States. 

Allison has an extensive national exhibition and sales record spanning over three decades. Her work is also found in public and private art collections in Germany, Japan, India, Ireland, and Italy. In 2013, Allison was invited to join an international group of artists in an ongoing collaborative project called The Drawing Box, where she exhibited mixed-media drawings in Ireland, Italy, Malaysia, and the Philippines. To this day, she joins fellow Drawing Box artists to exhibit drawings in both established and alternative venues around the world. In the spring of 2017, Allison’s paintings were published with one hundred fellow contemporary artists in a comprehensive new book by Rebecca Crowell and Jerry McLaughlin called Cold Wax Medium: Techniques, Concepts & Conversations

Allison B. Cooke’s Small Works Gallery is a culmination of years’ worth of gathered parchments and pigments, combined to build dreamlike renditions of remembered places and times from the artist’s many trips to Italy.

Click the link below to view the collection of works on paper. Upon request, works on multimedia artboard are mounted to 2″ deep strainer bars and works on Arches paper are framed under museum-quality glass.

You could not step twice into the same river, for other waters are ever flowing onto you.

Quoted by Plato in Cratylus

My paintings celebrate the interplay of past and present, imagined and tangible, that which is lost and what remains. I have always been drawn to the physicality and evidence of transformation as a unique presence in the passage of time. The patinas that evolve where architectural structures and atmospheric effects coalesce are especially interesting to me. Surfaces with a built-up history of shifting colors and mark-making, whether random or intentional, carry the visual and poetic resonance I seek in my paintings.  

One of the most enduring influences in my work originates from teaching for twelve consecutive summers at the Santa Reparata International School of Art in Florence, Italy. While living there, I encountered an abundant and endless palimpsest of fascinating imagery. The overlap of aging world-class works of art with present-day culture was intriguing. This experience, intertwined with memory and invention, continues to be at the center of my aesthetic while working in the studio. While the fragments of ancient walls and fading frescoes in Italy are a long-time favorite, images from my everyday urban life are often just as influential.

The tactile nature of paint and other materials offer unpredictable qualities that are integral to the creation of my open-ended abstract work. I find pleasure in the experimental nature of mixed media combinations and thrive on unfamiliarity when making an image. Most of my paintings are made on a braced panel with oil paint, beeswax, powdered marble, dry pigment, and varying drawing materials. My process may include adding and subtracting, excavating, collage, and improvisational calligraphic mark-making. This approach to painting seeks connections between recognition and suggestion, specificity, and chance.  Ultimately, I am interested in creating works that evoke materiality and meaning from a free-spirited studio practice with no preconceived notions of what may happen.

An Interview with Allison B. Cooke

Who are you and what do you do?

After three decades of teaching art at the college level, I am now a full-time artist and work out of two studios. My husband Bobby and I share an artistic life with our high-spirited cat named Stella. Sometimes I work in a well-seasoned attic space in our old Victorian home, but most days I paint in a spacious studio in the Lincoln Warehouse next to the Kinnickinnic River in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  At the present, I am represented by seven galleries across the United States. 

Why do you do what you do?

I am interested in surfaces that reveal visual history and celebrate the passage of time. This fascination and appreciation began in childhood and was expanded through years of traveling – especially to my beloved Italy! I am eternally grateful for the twelve summers spent living in Florence and teaching at the Santa Reparata International School of Art through a study abroad program at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. These yearly experiences were like an artist’s residency or pilgrimage and nurtured a passionate influence present in my artistic interests and aesthetics to this day. 

Describe a real-life situation that inspired you.

Over the years of traveling in Italy, I was fascinated by the aging walls, fading frescoes, marks of time, weathered surfaces, etc. on the streets as well the world-class artworks housed in museums. I love both but am more inspired in my current work by the former. I am also drawn to urban decay and architectural remnants in my own environment. To me, there is a spiritual poignancy and deep mystery to surfaces that hold the evidence of time.

How do you work?

The tactile nature of paint and other materials offers unpredictable qualities that are integral to the creation of my open-ended abstract works. I find pleasure in the experimental nature of mixed media combinations and thrive on unfamiliarity when making an image. Most of my sustained works are made on a braced panel with oil, beeswax, powdered marble, dry pigment, and varying drawing materials. My process may include adding and subtracting, excavating, and improvisational calligraphic mark-making. This approach to painting seeks relationships between recognition, suggestion, specificity, and chance.  

What’s your background?

As a child, my absolute favorite relative was our grandmother Dorothy. She lived in a huge old house with a rich patina and history way out in the country in rural Pennsylvania. Everything about Dorothy was magical to me. I also loved the murals and paintings my grandfather created, his plaster walled studio off the kitchen, the interesting antiques and artifacts from their travels, and the overall feeling of everything about their home. 

There are a great many artists in my gene pool. My mother’s distant cousin was Daniel Garber a well-known American Impressionist. My great grandfather wrote music and books and was the founder and editor of Etude music magazine in Philadelphia. My great-grandmother made wonderful still life paintings that were on our walls growing up. My grandfather made his living as an artist, doing both commercial and fine art. My father does landscape paintings and often wins awards in northern Indiana. My sister Cynthia has an art degree, paints in a variety of media, and for many years taught art to local home-schooled kids out of her own studio.

How has your practice changed over time?

I work in the studio nearly every day. Although I was trained in traditional realism, for the last ten or more years, I have become fully enamored with open-ended abstraction.  I move between oil, acrylic, collage, mixed media works, and printmaking. Ultimately, I am interested in creating works that evoke materiality and meaning from a free-spirited studio practice with no preconceived notions of what may happen. 

What work do you most enjoy doing?

I’m fully engaged with open-ended process-based works and the infinite possibilities in pure invention based on a call and response to the materials. I almost never start with a preconceived specific idea in mind. There may be some color or compositional ideas, but I eventually ‘find’ the painting over many generations of layering. This happens through lots of adding and subtracting paint, taking chances, and staying present with what is happening on the surface.

What themes do you pursue?

The ideas found in a palimpsest form an integral conceptual framework in my work. The word palimpsest derives from the Latin palimpsestus, which derives from the ancient Greek meaning “again” and “scrape.”  My painting surfaces are built over many generations of layering that both reveal and conceal the process, create color relationships, and suggest the passage of time. Fragments of earlier layers may appear in the work to create a sense of an implied story or random history. 

The atmospheric phenomenons of sun, wind, rain, ice, etc. create random weathered effects on walls and other architectural surfaces over time. There is an interesting intermingling of the traces of the human touch and the ongoing processes found in nature. Just like in my own work, this interaction may be unpredictable and unplanned.  

I often explore Asemic (non-legible) writing my paintings that is likely obscured with multiple layers of painting and scraping. I want to build an implied, but not specific, narrative suggesting words, fragments, and personal experience. Sometimes the writing is more akin to drawing. So, there is an interesting interplay between words and mark-making. These fragments of writing become another abstract element to explore. I think of the lost and found words and marks as open-ended, fleeting, and poetic rather than literal or declarative. It’s an invitation to the viewer to find one’s own meaning.

Lily Pad Gallery

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