Rande Cook’s First Nations culture is deeply rooted in his heart, but his art has wings.
“I challenge myself,” says the 36-year-old Vic High grad. “I like to find the metaphor behind the original stories and legends and relate them to today. … When I find them, it’s like a light bulb opens in my heart – opens up more room to create.”
Cook’s Bridge Street studio is a bright, airy corner filled with his work and work-in-progress. With wood shavings on the floor and an espresso machine seated below a flatscreen TV, it speaks of Cook’s view of art and the world around him.
“I respect tradition, but not always tradition itself. Everything is meant to be pushed forward, that’s how I see it,” he says.
Cook starts his day by taking his coffee down to the water’s edge near Clover Point. “I let go of everything. It helps me focus. I think about what I’m grateful for. Clear my mind and let go of expectations. … I remind myself that I’m doing a good job, to keep going and work from my heart.”
A member of the Kwakwaka’wakw, Cook was raised in Alert Bay and spent much of his youth fishing with his father and grandfather.
“There’s nothing like going to sleep at night on the boat hearing the engine, or if the engine’s off, hearing nothing but the water lapping. I would always pick up the tune from the sound and work on traditional songs,” he says. He maintains his love of music by drumming and singing with his four-year-old daughter and one-year-old son before putting them to bed at night.
Although living in Esquimalt with his family, Cook travels frequently to Alert Bay, often bringing his children with him to visit his grandparents and other family members. They are visits that keep their cultural heritage strong, he says.
Cook’s work though, breaks the bonds of traditional First Nations art. Though masks and totems are featured among his carvings, there is also a strong contemporary edge to much of his work, especially in his paintings.
“At first people were sarcastic in a roundabout way, I challenged them. When I started carving, I thought, ‘I’m going to be an artist first – not a First Nations artist – just an artist.’”
See Cook’s work at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria during Urban Thunderbirds/Ravens in a Material World, curated by Cook and Coast Salish artist lessLIE, at Alcheringa Gallery and online at randecook.com.