By Ryah Cooley
Paso Robles artist Bruce Cook isn’t necessarily interested in reality, just as it is.
From a young age, Cook was obsessed with old monster movies—like the original 1931 Dracula and Frankenstein films. He loved the idea of pretending to be something else, with just enough cheesy factors to tell it wasn’t really real. That Halloween influence can be seen in Cook’s digital art pieces, which feature Dia De Los Muertos-style skeletons, in the Masquerade exhibit put on by the Paso Robles Art Association at Studios on the Park, starting Feb. 1.
“My interest in creature features is all in fun,” Cook said. “I just went tongue in cheek with the theme.”
Different artists from the area were assigned to interpret the theme of masquerade, the festival, the celebration, and people pretending to be what or who they imagine. For Cook, a digital artist and something of an illusionist, the idea of multiple identities clicked.
The Cal Poly grad and photographer moved back home to the Los Angeles area after attending school and working on a ranch in Templeton, but he always dreamed of returning to the Central Coast. Today he splits his time between architecture and digital art, as well as Hermosa Beach and Paso Robles. For years, Cook shot straight-up landscape photos of sunsets on Catalina Island or vineyards in Paso Robles.
But for the past few years, Cook has shifted his focus to the digital realm, where he starts with an actual photo and then layers additional images and elements in Photoshop. This way he’s not limited by what’s in front of him but only by what he can imagine.
“[With landscape photography] you’re sort of stuck with the weather that day and the view from where you’re standing,” Cook said. “[With digital art] you can create whole worlds that never were.”
While Cook’s traditional photographer buddies may scratch their heads at his digital art, the artist enjoys that element of surprise his work creates for the viewer. In his piece School’s Out Eternal, a skeleton dances merrily about in front of an old-style writing desk and vintage black and white photographs. Fog appears to magically drift just above the floor. In Bat Blood Merlot, a skull, an ever brightly burning candle, a skull goblet, a bottle of strange wine, and a black and white photo all sit on a table in front of a wall filled with skulls.
“I like what I’m doing, but I think I’m just barely scratching the surface,” Cook said. “I think I’m a little bit of a rebel. I admire people who take art in different directions.”
When people stop in front of his pieces at the Masquerade exhibit, Cook hopes they’ll feel a sense of wonder and think: “What’s going on here?” “What is this thing?”
“I like capturing people’s attention for those extra few seconds,” Cook said. “I hope they walk away feeling it’s a different interpretation of art and photography.”
The mask is coming off at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Masquerade exhibit, put on by the Paso Robles Art Association, is at Studios on the Park in Paso Robles from Feb. 1 through 28. An artist’s reception and awards ceremony will take place on Feb. 4 from 5 to 7 p.m. Visit studiosonthepark.org for more information.