Mother’s Day is fast approaching, and for everyone who has felt the need to point out that writing an article is nothing compared to the labour of love involved in carrying around a tiny developing human for ten months, here you have it. Ten months in, and finally the first chance I’ve had to write about my favourite artist, and undoubtedly The East’s greatest supporter, my own dear mother, Dale Cook.
For starters, yes, Dale can be a woman’s name. I know her middle name is Francis too, but come on, I will fight you. She has had three great loves in her life: painting, mustard, and my father, presumably in that order.
“Maybe don’t mention the tole painting…”
The first decade of my life will be forever marked by the ubiquitous presence of acrylic paint on nearly every conceivable object throughout our home: breadboxes, trays, pots, toys, napkin holders, door knockers, checkerboards, candlestick holders, lamps, picture frames, shelves, welcome signs, and an old ten gallon milk churn that in the midst of suburbia served no further purpose than as a canvas for my mother’s handiwork. Tole painting had seen a resurgence in popularity in the 1960’s, and naturally, it took another two-and-a-half decades before the 18th century art of putting paint on your stuff began trending in Saint John.
Dale claims she was entirely disinterested in the trend, or even painting, until a neighbour began selling their tole painted works, “It was my Scottish ancestry: I wanted something, but I didn’t want to pay for it, so I started doing it myself.”
From that point on, if anything could benefit from the inherent value of having a heart surrounded by paisleys painted on it, or perhaps a pair of geese, out came the newspapers and paints.
“I began taking some of the tole painting designs, and adding my own work to it.”
While she freely admits that tole painting was a gateway drug, the true depths of her addiction only surfaced after the birth of her youngest son. A larger family meant a larger house, one with a basement studio where she would disappear to for days on end, only to emerge blurry-eyed and streaked with paint.
She began attending craft fairs, and art exhibits, meeting points for other artists where they could ‘showcase’ their work and exchange advice on technique.
“I started taking fine art lessons, and then I bought books, and more books. I kept trying to get better, and better, and better. I never stopped wanting to improve.”
Gone were the innocent days of tole painting. No longer content with simple acrylics, she began experimenting with oil paints, and progressed full-time to working on canvas.
“Art is all about having fun creating, I don’t care if it’s with crayons…”
Though claiming it was still just a hobby, she began pushing art on others, including her children, going so far as to teach colour theory to their grade three classes. Her only daughter would succumb to a life of art; going on to attend a fine art school, and eventually becoming a gallery manager.
“One of my greatest joys is to see people start painting. I talk to more people who say they don’t know how, or they don’t have the confidence, but everyone has to start somewhere. It’s so rewarding to see people get better if they invest the time. One of the real joys of painting is encouraging other people to get into painting.”
“It borders on realism. It’s probably not hyper-realism” – Dale Cook, describing her habit.
“I used to strive to make something as close to the original picture as possible, but now I’m trying to get more abstract. You don’t see things in life the way you see things in a photograph. A photograph is not real looking. You see it the way the camera sees. Your mind will see things differently. Look at my nose. Look at my nose! Look at my finger. Look at my nose! Life is blurry.”
Dale’s creative processes has increasingly influenced her perception of the real world, making significant use of what Tom Smith refers to as ‘the art brain’, “You couldn’t do anything in life if you always have your art brain on. You wouldn’t be able to walk up a set of stairs, you’d be, ‘Oh look at the perspective, look at the line, the colours, the textures’. You wouldn’t even be on the first step.” Some would refer to Dale’s approach as creative license, others, a God complex.
“I can move mountains! See that stump over there? I needed a stump. I didn’t have a stump. I made a stump.”
In all honesty, Dale lives a fairly quiet and normal life as a functioning artist. She maintains a careful balance, living a cloistered life between her studio, and time spent amongst a support group of other artists.
While dabbling in expressionism, she makes efforts to keep her work from becoming too abstract. She chooses her subjects from her immediate surroundings, the terraferma of her reality, however subjective. When there is no shoreline, dory, or dockyard handy, she turns to King’s Landing, the eternal well of inspiration for East Coast artists in search of a sufficiently Maritime cliché.
Her preferred subject matter in turn helped her to overcome an inhibition towards painting people, and has since become one of her strongest suits, painting many of the actors in situ, “King’s Landing has inspired me to do so many paintings. They say you should paint things that you love, well I love King’s Landing. I’m always excited to paint using King’s Landing subjects. […] Faces have to look like a face, and an eye has to look like an eye. When you do landscapes you can do whatever trees you want, but a face has to be a face.”
Though she spends an absurd amount of time dedicated to each painting, sounds crazy when talking about art, and has a concerning new habit of airing out her work in public with plein air painting, she has played an enormous role by instilling a love of art in me from a young age. Thanks Mom, here’s my small way of helping with your dreams when you’ve spent years helping with mine. Happy Mother’s Day.
“It’s neat when I come across my paintings that I haven’t seen in a long time; it’s like seeing an old friend. I find people that still have my tole painting pieces, and it’s like they know I’m coming and just got it out to show me.”