You may have noticed that Greenpoint now has two new murals—at 1043 and 1077 Manhattan Avenue—thanks to Boston native and muralist Alex Cook, who recently painted both out of love for the neighborhood (and crowd-sourced the funding himself to do it). “While I was working on both of them, I got tons of feedback from the neighbors,” Cook said. “It was universally pretty good.”
At 1043, Cook’s mural depicts a surreal, three dimensional space with a young tree and balancing and floating boulders. Down the block at 1077, a series of heads with broad foreheads and strong jaws seem to be floating in front of the wall, looking passers-by in the eye. “The thing that was compelling to me about these images was the three dimensionality of it and being able to make an image that feels real,” said Cook. “One of the things I love the most as an artist is being able to create a sense of wonder or something mysterious that stops you in your tracks and makes you have a moment of ‘I don’t know everything.'”
Greenpointers recently caught up with Cook to talk about his eighteen year career as a muralist, his creative process, and his love of north Brooklyn.
Greenpointers: How many more murals do you have in the works?
Alex Cook: I’m in conversation with three more places in Boston for murals that will be done this month. I’m hoping to do another one in New York in August.
GPers: Will it also be in Greenpoint?
AC: Maybe actually. I have so many ideas for these things. If a hundred walls came my way, it would be no pressure. I would get it done. It’s one of those things that I really feel that I was born to do. Think of the thing you love to do best and this is it for me.
Having ideas is not the limiting factor or having the energy for it. A big piece of this work is scouting out walls and finding the spaces, which is actually a whole lot harder than making the work itself.
GPers: What makes a good wall for a mural?
AC: One of the main things is that it will be seen by lots of people—lots of foot traffic. Also a wall unbroken with windows, so a large unbroken space.
GPers: How did you first get into doing murals?
AC: When I was in college, I was getting a degree in painting, and I was in my last semester when I started to feel like the rest of my life was coming up and I needed to figure out a way for my art to be useful or able to interact with other people. I didn’t really know how how to do that, and I didn’t relish the idea of wandering from gallery to gallery and pleading with them to show my stuff, and then like one tenth of one fourth of people will ever go into that gallery.
Doing murals seemed like the solution of how to get my pictures in front of people’s eyes. I tried it out. I just went out into the neighborhood where I was living and started talking to people and finding out who owned walls and looked into getting a nice space. When I painted the first mural, it was kind of amazing to see how much power you have when you put an image in a neighborhood and how people are affected by it and show that they are affected by it.
GPers: When did you do your first mural?
AC: My first mural is going to have its 18th birthday in September. It’s in Northampton, Massachusetts.
GPers: Why did you select those two images for Greenpoint?
AC: The images that I’m working with are ones that I had laid away in my imagination for awhile now. I guess the images that come to me come in sort of an intuitive way: They arrive in my thoughts and I make them into sketches. They just come and the ones that are the most compelling, that are the most powerful to me, are the ones that get made into murals.
The thing that was compelling to me about these images was the three dimensionality of it, and being able to make an image that feels real. There’s real wonder in that. One of the things I love the most as an artist is being able to create a sense of wonder or something mysterious that stops you in your tracks and makes you have a moment of ‘I don’t know everything.’
GPers: Have you gotten any feedback from the community yet?
AC: While I was working on both of them, I got tons of feedback from the neighbors. It was universally pretty good. You know, I’m up on the ladder and I turn around to get more paint and there’s a bunch of people taking pictures and stopping to talk.
That’s one of the most fun things. You end up having these really awesome conversations with people. People ask, ‘Why are you doing it?’ and ‘How does it work?’ I answer questions the whole time when I’m there. One of the residents came up and thanked me, saying, ‘It was a dingy corner and you made it so much better.’ When people say that, you know you’re doing the right thing.
GPers: How much does it cost on average to do a mural?
AC: It’s relatively inexpensive. Between paint, brushes, rollers, primer and drop cloths, it’s basically like two to three hundred dollars for a mural.
GPers: What kind of paint do you use?
AC: It’s latex house paint.
GPers: How do you make the murals? Do you ever use stencils?
AC: I generally draw it out first, but it’s all freehand.
GPers: I noticed that you’ve painted stone balancing images in some of your other murals. Is that a theme you’re working with?
AC: The stone balancing image goes back years and years—probably twenty years. Like I said before, images come and they’re compelling and I make them. Sometimes, they stick around and you end up having a beautiful relationship with an image. Stone balancing is one for me.
Fifteen years ago, when I was starting my business and making my website, that image was on the forefront. I guess making a living as an artist, people tell you that it’s going to be hard and impossible, and these pictures are things I couldn’t do in real life but you could do in painting. The stones became an imagine for me of doing the things you do that people tell you that you can’t do.
Alex Cook is an muralist who splits his time between Boston and Brooklyn. He’s still looking for walls—so contact him via his website if you own a good space. You can also follow him on Twitter @alexcookmusic. Alex says that one of his favorite things about Greenpoint is that he “really do[es] just like walking down Manhattan Avenue” and he’s “been having some good times in McCarren Park recently.”