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Q&A with Painter Michele Reday Cook

Michele Reday Cook is one of three award winners in the January All-Media Exhibit, juried by Paul Reuther, all of whom are first-time award winners at The Art League. She’s also one of two awardees from our friends at Del Ray Artisans, where she is the immediate past president.

Reday Cook is like many other artist members of our gallery in that she came to art later in life — although she has always been surrounded by it. Read our Q&A for more about this artist’s career and her Best-in-Show painting, Ghetto in Paradise.

Ghetto in Paradise, oil, by Michele Reday Cook (click for larger image)
Ghetto in Paradise, oil, by Michele Reday Cook (click for a larger image)

What was your goal with Ghetto in Paradise?
Michele Reday Cook: I wanted to explore the juxtaposition of poverty adjacent to wealth, and the way in LA you can live in a dump, and be surrounded by great wealth, good fortune, natural beauty and year-round wonderful weather…

What location is pictured? What made you want to paint it?
Los Angeles, late 1970’s, eastern edge of Santa Monica, off Pico.

I took a couple of photographs from the window of my sister’s apartment, at a time she was hospitalized and not expected to survive. Weird view, crummy apartment, very stressful time in beautiful LA (my sister’s fine—a medical miracle!) I thought the scene kind of captured that incongruity of that low-rent, shabby neighborhood next to wealthy Santa Monica. Also how incongruous beautiful weather and surroundings seem when one is experiencing a crisis.

Ghetto in Paradise (detail) by Michele Reday Cook
Ghetto in Paradise (detail) by Michele Reday Cook

Why are you a painter? Do you also use other media?
I don’t know why I’m a painter. It runs in the family—musicians, painters and photographers. I think it has to do with needing to capture or remember certain scenes for myself by recreating them. I came to art later in life, in my 40’s. (My mother was pleased that I’d finally accepted my destiny.)

I started in watercolor; I do some abstract acrylic works on paper, and some sculpture too, but I mostly work in oils these days.

What’s your creative process like, from an idea to a finished piece?
Agony! Frustration! Sometimes a painting comes together quickly, and I try to recognize when that happens and stop before I ruin it. But its usually just trial and error, trying to get on canvas what I see in my mind and that I want viewers to experience. Basically, I paint what I see, and what captures my interest.

Playing Hooky – John S. Sleeps In, acrylic, by Michele Reday Cook — from the May 2012 “Bedtime Stories” exhibit juried by Judy Greenberg.
Playing Hooky – John S. Sleeps In, acrylic and mixed media, by Michele Reday Cook — from the May 2012 “Bedtime Stories” exhibit juried by Judy Greenberg.

I do take classes at The Art League and find them very helpful. Great teachers who look over your shoulder and point out where your painting could use some work! Everyone needs that.

I paint scenes from coastal Southern California, where I spent much of my life, and of the Blue Ridge Mountains where I spend as much time as I can these days. These are places that are meaningful to me.

What is your first memory of experiencing art?
3 memories: Watching my dad paint. My favorite art books as a young child: “Art Treasures of the Louvre,” and “Hammonds Nature Atlas of the World.” Also growing up in Japan in the 50’s as a child– a culture in which visual art was everywhere, in nature and in the way everything was made into an art form. And of course, being raised in a family in which pursuit of the creative arts was expected from birth!

Marina Study, oil, by Michele Reday Cook — from the 2011 Art in City Hall exhibit. (click for a larger image)
Marina Study, oil, by Michele Reday Cook — from the 2011 Art in City Hall exhibit. (click for a larger image)

What was it like growing up in that family? What made you eventually “accept your destiny”?
As children in Japan, we had soft pastels (Cray-Pas) which we thought were “crayons” — you can imagine my horror when we arrived in the US and I was given Crayolas and told these were crayons. But I was hampered in my early artistic efforts by being extremely near-sighted. Efforts to learn piano failed for total lack of interest and ability. I was pretty uncoordinated, and had to find something besides constantly reading. Theater turned out to be the obvious choice.

Show business is a hard business, and eventually I had to give it up and get a “real job.” I went back to school for my BA in theater arts and MA in clinical psychology, got married, moved to Alexandria, had kids … I’d been cartooning for years, a sort of diary/blog to entertain myself and co-workers, and began to feel the stirrings of need to pursue more serious artistic goals.

By then my sister Liz was already a successful artist. When my kids were little, I’d always take them down to the Torpedo Factory. I realized I ought to be an artist after all, and began to imagine my future as a painter. My parents and sister encouraged me, saying things like, “… finally — we always knew you were an artist — now apply yourself!” And mother did actually say she wondered why it took me so long to accept my destiny as a painter.

You know the rest: many Art League classes, getting into shows, selling — and most affirming, receiving recognition for my art. I’ve just “retired” from seven years on the board at Del Ray Artisans, as curator director and president, to devote more time to becoming a better artist.

By the way — my daughter is a photographer. Must run in the family!

What are you working on now?
I’m trying to finish up some portraits; working on a couple of landscapes of mountains…taking a sculpture class. I’m in a small group show in February at Del Ray Artisans, and I’m busy putting together an exhibit of my work for that show.

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