A Family of Artistsby Ben McNitt on Jul. 27, 2009, under arts
DeANN MELTON AND JAMES P. COOK LIVE WITH THEIR DAUGHTER ELLEN in a far northwest side home the couple established nearly three decades ago where pine trees first planted as saplings now tower over 30 feet high and once tiny agaves are grown into giants.
Inside their home on a recent visit, I found a calm atmosphere of disciplined work, painting, sculpture, history and a comfortable sense of place earned by the success of achievement.
They are a family of artists.
Arriving in Tucson in 1975 from Lubbock, Tex., DeAnn earned her MFA from the University of Arizona. Her canvases are large, her still lifes lush with color that fairly makes you want to pick out one of the flowers or fruits that compete with each other in abundance.
A main focus of her work is a series of life size oil portraits begun in 1992 – now numbering fifty – none of which is for sale. The series is Masters and Lovers that has received partial showings at the Tucson Museum of Art (1993) and the Roswell Museum and Art Center (2007).
The Masters are artist and the Lovers are collectors and curators. The series will continue indefinitely as Melton finds new subjects and revisits others for an historical body of work of the creative community of her time.
“I paint people who are committed, who have really worked and worked,” she says. “I watch them until I have an image in my mind, a feeling for the energy I want in the painting. Then I go ask them if they’ll sit for me.”
Unique to her work is infusing the backgrounds of her portraits with the style used by the artists she paints. “I paint in their style but show my hand,” she says. It’s a gift for technical empathy her husband calls “simply incredible.”
James Cook grew up in the small Kansas prairie town of Eskridge and earned his MFA at Wichita State. His canvases, too, are large. His subject – landscapes of the Mountain West, expanses he has visited and revisited countless times – and edgy urban landscapes like refinery row near Houston.
Both the natural and urban landscapes “are the same to me,” he says, in the sense that “it is a process of looking. Truly seeing is hard. I am intrigued by what is there, by the light, the angles, the spaces, the water, the seasonal changes. Seeing and painting are one act. In the process of painting you have to understand the process of seeing, and do it in the foreign material of the paint on your palette.”
Their daughter Ellen, who in childhood began painting along the wall in her mother’s studio, completed her first horse sculpture at the age of six. Many more are in their home now. Horses are her passion. She and her mother are completing a children’s book about the travails and recovery of Ellen’s horse Maxx following a snake bite. At one point Ellen even took her harpsichord to the stable to play for and soothe the ailing Maxx.
From time to time we all ask what is life all about. From my visit with them, I’d say, this is a family that has found and is living the answer.
You can see more of DeAnn Melton’s and James Cook’s work at their websites that also link to Ellen’s sculptures. Here in Tucson, some James’ work can be seen at the Davis Dominguez Gallery at 154 E. 6th Street.