Jill Ann Cooke
A Retrospective in Short Story form
Finding something in ones life that one is passionate about and willing to try, and try again to perfect, while actually enjoying the pursuit, is indeed a blessing. Especially if a living could be made simultaneously. The former I have been happily doing since I was a 3 year old, back in 1965. The latter, however, has been somewhat more elusive.
My first career choice was that of an illustrator. I had just started high school in 1975 and began researching artists I’ve come to admire. Mrs. Silva was a very helpful and encouraging teacher who lent me a beautiful art history book to study. I have studied the work of some artists in an Encyclopedia Brittanica, but those books weren’t nearly as special to me as the art history book was. I read about illustrators such as Norman Rockwell and Man Ray after Mrs. Silva told me that my artwork was reminiscent of them in particular. (I have never been told anything like that before). I was also drawn to Franz Marc and Salvador Dali. I actually recall a painting assignment I had painted back then, in Salvatore Dali’s style of surrealism, my favorite. (Funny, how memories just come flooding back like that, after so many years).
All of the aforementioned artists have inspired me draw and paint of course. But I had discovered that I could use art in such a way as to communicate with the world at large, or even invoke emotion. Especially I knew I could illustrate to tell a story. I thought becoming an illustrator would be a perfect career choice for me. I really thought that at the time anyway…
After graduation in 1979, I began working sporadically as a part time freelance artist (and a part time waitress) for various small businesses and private portrait clients. I thought I was doing pretty well at the time, however, there was always a little nagging doubt in the back of my mind about my decision. It was 1987, eight years later by the time I could admit to myself that I was unsure as to whether I was on the right or the wrong path. The truth was that I have never felt anything but panic when faced with the inevitable board room or even living room presentations I had to endure. I wasn’t convinced that this path was for me. I finally surmised that ultimately, I wasn’t telling MY story after all. I was telling someone else’s.
I began researching the fine arts more diligently because that was a dream that was always in the back of my mind. I decided to finally pursue the fine arts by requesting an interview with PAFA, The infamous Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art. This was the very first art gallery and art school in the United States, so I was completely and utterly intimidated. I kept my appointment regardless, even though I only brought what I thought was a somewhat boring portfolio of illustration and portrait work, the interviewer was very encouraging to me none the less.
In a few weeks after my interview I received a welcome packet from the Academy, which I greeted with mixed feelings. I knew that I would never be able to afford the tuition so I was overwhelmed to see that I won the partial scholarship they had encouraged me to apply for while I was there. I could actually afford to attend! Thus began my fine art education in painting. I also became completely enamored with sculpture and printmaking as well. All 3 disciplines are required of the first year student, and they each inspired me to actually become something I did not expect. I grew in something we now all call a “creator”. Not simply another painter, sculptor, or printmaker. The possibilities I imagined about my future was much more motivating to me than what I had experienced in the then narrow parameters of the commercial arts at that time.
I began showing and selling my work in Center City Philadelphia and Chadsford, PA a few short weeks after I began at PAFA, and later the Lynn House Gallery, in CA. I was loving the feeling of painting what I truly wanted to paint. I was communicating my own vision. Working in my own style. Becoming my own brand. I am completely capable now a days of showing my paintings, sculptures, and prints professionally while being confident in designing displays and/or building installations as well. which I have done. I was no longer simply being paid to complete an assignment or task.
I wasn’t working in the effort of only realizing someone else’s vision, I am now working to realize my own.
I think I was finally living a much more honest and fulfilling life after my so called epiphany, and it is a path I will continue traveling upon, for many more years to come.
(Not) The End…(Yet).
Jill Ann Cooke