Artist Profile: Anita Cooke

Anita Cooke’s journey as an artist has included a variety of mediums and paths. Raised in the Midwest, she drew and painted as a child and began working with clay as a teenager. Today, she creates mixed-media “sewn works,” which she describes as relief sculptures or dimensional patterning.

In 1980, two years after graduating from Kent State with a BFA in ceramics, Cooke and three friends took a trip down the east coast, made their way to New Orleans and fell in love with the city. All relocated here and Cooke quickly became a working artist by setting up a potter’s wheel in her apartment and turning out large quantities of functional work.

“I have a midwestern work ethic,” she says. “I wanted to be a production potter.”

She soon developed an interest in non-representational and abstract work as well. Without a kiln to fire her vessels, she began manipulating them into sculptural forms.

“It was a turning point in how I worked,” she says. “It started me on a completely new path.”

By day, she sold restaurant supplies and waitressed to pay the bills. By night, classes at Tulane’s University College gave her access to the school’s clay studio where she spent her free time.

“I basically lived at Tulane,” says Cooke, who worked as a teaching assistant and obtained her MFA in ceramics and sculpture at the university.

Marriage, a daughter and years of thoughtful, labor-intensive works and gallery exhibitions followed, but Cooke’s artistry changed course once again after Hurricane Katrina flooded her home and studio.

While Cooke and her husband rebuilt, she found her aunt’s sewing machine in a closet and began using it to sew pieces that she then used to construct multi-layered, highly textural reliefs, some with a ceramic look. Though she had tired of the monotonous labor required by her clay pieces, she once again found herself immersed in repetitive, time-consuming work, which she likens to factory piecework.

“I had to have enough quantity to build a piece,” she says. “It doesn’t have impact unless there’s a lot.”

Her recent work explores themes of pathways: adjacent, interconnected, blocked, linear, circuitous or tangled to name a few.

“I’ve had a lot of different chapters,” says the artist who begins with a working idea, but leaves room for interpretation. “I like the idea of doing work that people can tap into their own creative center.”

For more on Anita Cooke’s work, visit anitacooke.com