Best Summer Ever

Posted on June 3, 2011 – 5:56 AM | by Admin
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By Becky Grunewald, Photo by Scott Duncan

Ahhh, to be 27 again, working a fun, easy (albeit low-paying job), drifting from punk house to punk house with a shifting group of friends for roommates, wasting away the long, languid days of summer lazing in the back yard with a cheap beer in your hand. Those are the feelings that Amanda Cook’s photo blog Best Summer Ever evoke, and because many of her photos end up as the subjects for her fabric-based portraits, her art is also permeated with the feeling of endless summer days: arm wrestling in the grass, smoking a cig.

Yet the 20s are a turbulent time as well: maybe a few too many beers are poured down the hatch, a few too many cigarettes bought with change scrounged from the couch, that dead-end job is lost without another one in sight.  Cook’s art reflects this; she counteracts the cheeriness of the gingham and flower-print fabric with the subject matter: “I like doing things that are like people shotgunning beers or smoking. I like the juxtaposition of the sweet and the not-so-sweet.”  She dismisses an apple print hanging on her studio wall, saying “A lot of people like the real cutesy things I do, I really hate that apple because there’s no point, it’s just cute decoration.”

Things are moving fast for Cook: in less than two years she has gone from not really considering herself an artist to participating in both solo and group shows at spaces such as Bows and Arrows and Spanglish Arte, and in April she began renting a studio at the Verge Center for the Arts.

“If you had told me two years ago that I’d be having art in a gallery I would have told you ‘That’s crazy!’ That wasn’t even something I was thinking about doing. I was making stuff, but everyone just seemed to really like it. My friend…really pushed me. He took one of my pieces and put it into a Sol Collective show. He was so excited about it. He pushed me out there to show people and the ball just kept rolling after that.”

Cook credits professor Jiayi Young at American River College with rerouting her from a “kinda dry” graphic art trajectory to her current fine art direction.

“[Young] had a class where she was experimenting with putting graphic design and art students together…so half the class was art students who were unfamiliar with computers at all and the other half were a bunch of computer kids, but I kind of already had done both so I felt like ‘yeah, I could do this’ and I just kinda experimented. That’s when I first did a transfer onto fabric…the first little series I made was for that class and I feel like everyone was so excited about it, and I felt like it was uniquely mine…so I married my photography and graphic design and my crafty artistic side; it all just came together.”

Her process for creating a portrait starts with a photograph she’s taken or an image she finds arresting (Iggy Pop has been a subject).  She then uses Illustrator to create outlines for the elements she wants in the piece, prints those onto transparencies, which she uses to transfer the images onto her chosen fabric, much of which has been donated by her mother.  In fact, Cook’s mom sewed a lot of her baby clothes, and will occasionally see a piece and remark something like, “I made a Christmas dress for you in that fabric.”  This adds another level of meaning to her work, which Cook refers to as “modern quilting.”

The idea for the blog Best Summer Ever came about as a tongue-in-cheek way to combat Cook’s aversion to the heat:

“Yeah I really don’t enjoy Sacramento summers. It’s a little too hot for me. I don’t think I’m made for it, but my friend Angela and I were at Tower Theater and we decided we were going to have the best summer ever. Actually it started with a chant…and we made all these lists of all the things we would want to do during the summer to make it the best ever and made a conscious decision to make it the best summer ever. There were a lot of haters and doubters who were like, ‘This isn’t the best summer ever.’ It’s a total mindset. Ya gotta make it happen, it’s not just going to happen.”

The next step in making this, the second summer of Best Summer Ever, the true Best Summer Ever is the Best Summer Ever band, which Cook said she is going to “make happen.”  This is good news, because in addition to being a talented artist and photographer, Cook has a dynamite set of pipes and a sultry stage presence, as anyone who has seen her embody Karen Carpenter and, jaw-droppingly, Tina Turner, in recent cover band performances can attest.

How does she shed her demure persona to wow the crowd?

“I knew I could do Karen Carpenter. I channeled her. I felt her sadness. I still get nervous all the time.

“I see those pictures from [my performance in] Ike and Tina Turner and I don’t know who that person is, I don’t know how I had the guts to do that. I think I just need encouragement to keep going.”

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