LaShonda Cooks is an artist, insurance adjuster, and activist based in Dallas, Texas. Known for her poignant pointillism, her work seeks to explore our notions of beauty, norms, and identity. Cooks is also a longtime collaborator of Jamaal Eversley, the central figure behind Beacon Gallery’s Real F.R.I.E.N.D.S. exhibition opening on September 4th. The two artists have known one another since their first days at Babson College, where they both pursued more “practical” majors before seriously leaning into art following graduation. Since then, Cooks and Eversley have gone on to share a canvas numerous times, offering vibrant juxtapositions of Cook’s more figurative practice against Eversley’s abstraction. We got to chat with Cooks before the exhibition about her art, background, and history working with Eversley.
How did you develop your artistic style, and what drew you towards a more pointillist technique? How has your parent’s practice and your experience with ceramics influenced your work, if at all?
My artistic style developed by accident. In college, on my mini escapes to the ceramics studio, I learned to paint on ceramic tiles and with tiles, you have to blot the paint instead of stroking it. When I carried this technique over to acrylic and canvas after graduation, it produced the very old school pointillistic, post-Impressionist effect that I employ to this day. My dad’s work as an art teacher and my mom’s musical background (she plays piano by ear) meant I was fortunate to grow up in an environment filled with arts and culture. Though I couldn’t envision a career as an artist as financially feasible as a kid, I grew up in a space that placed value on expressions of all forms. Once I returned home from college, I was blessed and given a safe space to explore my passions and purpose without pressure. I credit them with giving me the courage to pursue this dream.
What inspires your work, and how do you land on your subject matter?
My work is inspired by a desire to understand and explore cultural, identity and beauty norms from my lens. I started painting because I yearned to see more images that reflected me and my reality. I paint people both iconic and familial to try to discover what connects us, separates us, makes us human, makes us legendary. I love painting those that overcame struggles and adversity and feel that energy pulsing from the canvas when I attempt to capture their essence with my twist.
How do you balance your work as an insurance adjuster with your creative practice, and do elements of one job ever influence or inform the other?
Working full-time as an insurance adjuster while being an artist actually balances out pretty well. Adjusting is problem solving, negotiation and customer service at its core, all great skills to have as an artist. I love slipping in and out of each realm, but I try to keep each world very separate. As an adjuster, I interact with people from all walks of life which keeps me sharp and current with ideas for creating. I draw inspiration from it all.
How did you first connect with Jamaal, and how have you collaborated since? What works are you exhibiting in Beacon’s show, and how do they incorporate themes of friendship?
I met Jamaal at Babson on the first very day of freshman orientation. I liked him instantly. His energy is infectious. We went down different paths while over the course of our college years, joined different clubs and friend groups, but remained in touch. I was thrilled to discover during our five year college reunion that we were pursuing visual art careers professionally. We joked about doing a show on campus and a year or so later Jamaal had started putting together the pieces to make it happen. He’s such a visionary. Our show in 2017 at the college’s Hollister Gallery was amazing thanks to him, Artist in Residence Danielle Krcmar, Babson Magazine and our host of friends, faculty and staff that supported us largely thanks to Jamaal’s charm and perseverance. We partnered together again in 2018 on a series of collaborative paintings for the Black Affinity Network’s annual conference.
I’m so thrilled to be collaborate with him again in such a fantastic conceptual show at Beacon Gallery. Our collaborative pieces for the show are a homage to 90s iconic nerds Steve Urkel and Dwayne Wayne. Both characters showcased Black men in non-stereotypical ways, Urkel as the cheesy, non-rhythmic lovable book nerd and Wayne as the girl crazy, mathematics turned engineering wizkid. I loved weaving their figurative essence into Jamaal’s abstract interpretations of each gent.
What projects are you working on right now, and what would you like to accomplish in the near (or distant) future?
It’s been a crazy busy year artistically. In addition to this show, I’m working on a series of 30 tiny portraits on eco-friendly plates showcasing Black hair and exploring its magic, myths and methods. I’m also partnering with my Dad for a dual art show sometime this Fall or Spring. His pieces are completed but I’ll be creating mine over the next two months. The show, entitled Rooted, explores connectivity.
In the future, I plan to keep playing, exploring different mediums and topics that interest me and to continue to get better and more creative with my pieces.
Any art, book, movie, recipe, media, etc. recommendations, or just anything you’ve been particularly enjoying recently?
I love watching the Food Network, especially when I’m in need of inspiration. The creativity on shows like “Chopped” is simply awesome. I just finished reading “Song of Solomon” by Toni Morrison, one of my favorite writers. I’m currently listening to a ton of gospel and Miles Davis lately when I create.
To see more of LaShonda’s work, visit her website https://www.shondasart.com/ and Instagram @shondasart.