Artist Melissa Cooke creates photo-realistic portrayals of humanity in black and white, softly lit and exquisitely rendered. With an arsenal of talent and experience, Cooke’s works tend to have an ephemeral and transcendent quality about them. Large-scale graphite drawings on paper, her works are evocative and curious, exploring intimate details of contemporary life, with open-ended narratives. However, her recent works are feeling edgier and stronger. With gritty truth behind each graphite marking, Cooke is speaking up on her reality, fascinated by the city street cultures and the collaboration between observation and participation in big city life.

Taken from her daily life while living in Brooklyn, Cooke says she has been inspired by the marks that people have left on the city, and tried to capture that moment in her latest series of drawings entitled “No Place Like Home.” Made entirely with graphite powder, brushes and erasers, Cooke is not the average illustrator. She paints with light and shadow, and graphite.

Cooke plays with her rendering a bit more in this series. No longer simply photo-realism, now, she is exploring the playful freedom of flatness and tromp l’oeil as well. Some of the works get into the detailed cultural history of art as well, referencing traditional portraiture while also juxtaposing it next to or near more unexpected ephemeral style marks.

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Originally from Wisconsin, and now living in Minnesota, Cooke’s graphite expressions are emotional explorations through humanity. Cooke’s techniques are flawless, and her previous series’ often explore human experiences with wonderful lighting and familiar relics. Her past series, “Plunge,” explores detailed sections of a woman submerging into water. Taken from stills she took of herself, this series lets the viewer focus on whatever narrative they’d like to see in this. The ambiguous figure has only parts of its head peaking through the bubbly water, providing enough realism and abstraction to keep the imagination working.

Cooke’s work usually feels a bit like a symphony of perfect marks and ideal notes. But, in this new work, she is taking on a bit more of a punk rock vibe, with subjects in her works surrounding heavy drinking, vandalism, junk food, and broken dreams. Even the calmest work in “No Place Like Home” evokes a sense of chaos and determination at its core.

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