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Make believe: Paso Robles digital artist takes Halloween slant in Masquerade exhibit 

Paso Robles artist Bruce Cook isn’t necessarily interested in reality, just as it is.

From a young age, Cook was obsessed with old monster movies—like the original 1931 Dracula and Frankenstein films. He loved the idea of pretending to be something else, with just enough cheesy factors to tell it wasn’t really real. That Halloween influence can be seen in Cook’s digital art pieces, which feature Dia De Los Muertos-style skeletons, in the Masquerade exhibit put on by the Paso Robles Art Association at Studios on the Park, starting Feb. 1. 

click to enlarge SWEPT UP IN THE FANTASY:  A skeleton dances merrily about in Bruce Cook’s digital art piece, 'School’s Out Eternal,' as part of the Masquerade exhibit at Studios on the Park in Paso Robles. - IMAGE COURTESY OF BRUCE COOK
  • IMAGE COURTESY OF BRUCE COOK
  • SWEPT UP IN THE FANTASY: A skeleton dances merrily about in Bruce Cook’s digital art piece, 'School’s Out Eternal,' as part of the Masquerade exhibit at Studios on the Park in Paso Robles.

“My interest in creature features is all in fun,” Cook said. “I just went tongue in cheek with the theme.”

Different artists from the area were assigned to interpret the theme of masquerade, the festival, the celebration, and people pretending to be what or who they imagine. For Cook, a digital artist and something of an illusionist, the idea of multiple identities clicked. 

The Cal Poly grad and photographer moved back home to the Los Angeles area after attending school and working on a ranch in Templeton, but he always dreamed of returning to the Central Coast. Today he splits his time between architecture and digital art, as well as Hermosa Beach and Paso Robles. For years, Cook shot straight-up landscape photos of sunsets on Catalina Island or vineyards in Paso Robles. 

But for the past few years, Cook has shifted his focus to the digital realm, where he starts with an actual photo and then layers additional images and elements in Photoshop. This way he’s not limited by what’s in front of him but only by what he can imagine.

click to enlarge STRANGE HOSTS:  Paso artist Bruce Cook’s pieces, like 'Bat Blood Merlot,' start with an actual photo of something real and layers are then added in Photoshop. - IMAGE COURTESY OF BRUCE COOK
  • IMAGE COURTESY OF BRUCE COOK
  • STRANGE HOSTS: Paso artist Bruce Cook’s pieces, like 'Bat Blood Merlot,' start with an actual photo of something real and layers are then added in Photoshop.

“[With landscape photography] you’re sort of stuck with the weather that day and the view from where you’re standing,” Cook said. “[With digital art] you can create whole worlds that never were.”

While Cook’s traditional photographer buddies may scratch their heads at his digital art, the artist enjoys that element of surprise his work creates for the viewer. In his piece School’s Out Eternal, a skeleton dances merrily about in front of an old-style writing desk and vintage black and white photographs. Fog appears to magically drift just above the floor. In Bat Blood Merlot, a skull, an ever brightly burning candle, a skull goblet, a bottle of strange wine, and a black and white photo all sit on a table in front of a wall filled with skulls.

“I like what I’m doing, but I think I’m just barely scratching the surface,” Cook said. “I think I’m a little bit of a rebel. I admire people who take art in different directions.”

When people stop in front of his pieces at the Masquerade exhibit, Cook hopes they’ll feel a sense of wonder and think: “What’s going on here?” “What is this thing?”

click to enlarge THE ILLUSIONIST:  Bruce Cook splits his time between Paso Robles and Hermosa Beach and his creative energies between digital art and architecture. - PHOTO COURTESY OF BRUCE COOK
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF BRUCE COOK
  • THE ILLUSIONIST: Bruce Cook splits his time between Paso Robles and Hermosa Beach and his creative energies between digital art and architecture.

“I like capturing people’s attention for those extra few seconds,” Cook said. “I hope they walk away feeling it’s a different interpretation of art and photography.” 

The mask is coming off at rcooley@newtimesslo.com

GUESS WHO? :  The Masquerade exhibit, put on by the Paso Robles Art Association, is at Studios on the Park in Paso Robles from Feb. 1 through 28. An artist’s reception and awards ceremony will take place on Feb. 4 from 5 to 7 p.m. Visit studiosonthepark.org for more information.
  • GUESS WHO? : The Masquerade exhibit, put on by the Paso Robles Art Association, is at Studios on the Park in Paso Robles from Feb. 1 through 28. An artist’s reception and awards ceremony will take place on Feb. 4 from 5 to 7 p.m. Visit studiosonthepark.org for more information.

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