Wax for a new sculpture by Bruce Cook

A nutshell: fits and starts and divagations.

I was born on an Iowa farm and was driving tractors at six, which is fun when your six, but it gets old before you reach seven. I went from kindergarten through eighth grade at a one-room schoolhouse, West Maple Grove, a quarter mile north on the gravel road that passed in front of the farmhouse. I and one other person graduated from eighth grade there. We were, the two of us, the last graduating class. The doors to West Maple Grove School were closed and locked after that. My four years of high school were spent in a small town ten miles from the farm.

From high school I went directly to The United States Naval Academy at Annapolis.

Getting into Annapolis was quite an achievement for a farm boy from Iowa but not a wise choice for me. I spent just short of six months there, resigned and returned to Iowa. The next six to eight months I pounded nails and carried hod for a local contractor, and the first chance I got I hitched a ride to California just to get away to a place that didn’t know me. I was nineteen at the time.


My first three and a half years in Los Angeles were spent working a variety of menial jobs, taking a night chemistry class at LA City College and getting through three nonconsecutive semesters of prerequisite courses at UCLA. My major there was “design”, which was of pretty arcane significance to me. I really had no concept of what one might do with a “design” major. Keep in mind I was fresh off an Iowa farm. What appealed to me about it was that I expected it to be hands-on creative, and I wasn’t disappointed.

After UCLA I took a one-year hiatus from college and worked full-time at General Telephone in “I and R”. I was an Installer/Repairman. I learned how to install and repair telephones, to climb wooden poles and dodge mad dogs. I also worked the fledgling Marina installing phones on yachts. I was far from the Iowa farm. By then I had decided what I would ultimately pursue in college and where I wanted to do it. I was smart enough to know that I wouldn’t be happy in a profession that didn’t require artistic creativity but not wise enough to think of art as a possible “career” itself. I chose architecture because, to me, it was a profession that carried with it a cache of legitimacy in the business world and at the same time would provide that outlet for my creative impulses, art, and of course it does for a lucky, dedicated and talented few. My problem with architecture was that I chose it but I never married it. I never got to the dedicated focused part. I always wanted to do “my art” unrestricted and unfettered. I think that’s how I’ve always looked at it. I applied and was accepted to the University of California at Berkeley School of Architecture where I would ultimately get my degree. Twenty-three years old when I arrived there and I was just getting started. I graduated and have worked in the field and not without a measure of pleasure and satisfaction, but while practicing architecture, I have always made time to do “my own” art, art with my very personal stamp.

How I became an artist.

A variation of the following is probably how all artists become artists. Horses. With me it all began with horses. Well, it probably didn’t actually begin with horses, but horses were the focus of my nascent artistic endeavors as far back as I can remember. Probably I just scribbled on the wall with crayons or something like that in the very beginning, but I haven’t retained much from that period. My first memories drawing are memories of drawing horses. I loved horses. Still do. I drew horses, lots of them, and my parents and friends praised me for drawing “such beautiful horses”. The praise was a bonus! I loved hearing it as much as I loved drawing horses so I drew more of them and the more of them I drew the better I got at drawing them and, by default, I got better at drawing everything. It was fun, it drew praise and I was hooked.

 The onset of puberty changed my focus some. Girls! I started to notice girls and they soon became more interesting to draw than horses. I would never have dreamed it, but it was so. Drawing girls “doubled my pleasure and doubled my fun” to paraphrase an old cigarette commercial, and I continued to improve as an “artist”. My parents were less impressed with the girls than the horses but they let me be. I should point out that I wasn’t just drawing horses and girls all this time. I was interested in script. The beauty and flow of John Hancock’s signature on The Declaration of Independence fascinated me and I explored that. I created fonts, complete alphabets. I started doing what I called “dot drawings” when I was about ten years old. I’m still doing them. I played with words, I wrote poetry. I liked the creative process. I took art classes in high school, a couple of electives during three semesters at UCLA and a couple more while at the University of California at Berkeley studying architecture. It was at Berkeley that I got seriously involved with photography. While there I had a one-man show of my photographs in the student union. Also while at Berkeley I did layout and paste-up adds for Discount Records, a record store on Telegraph Avenue, and I did their storefront window display and had fun with that, creating a new physical display every week. I also designed a poster for a Picasso show, “Look Back”, at the University Art Museum. It was during my time at Berkeley, too, that I first tried oil paints, not in a class but on my own, and I sold paintings.

After college, while involved in a career in architecture, I have continued to spend as much time as I can doing my personal art. Several of my drawings were printed in editions of the Beyond Baroque Foundation literary publication. In the eighties I took up sculpture. I had always admired the small Arte Nouveau and Arte Deco bronze nudes. I would look at them and think to myself, “I can do that”, and it turned out I could. I showed some of those pieces at a restaurant/gallery in Venice.

This process, growing up doing art along with a few random formal art classes in college, amounts to, pretty much, the extent of my art education. Was it a good education? I think my art speaks for itself.