How did you get started in visual arts?

The arts are in my blood. My dad is a retired art teacher. Throughout school, I always sketched and doodled on everything. In the 4th grade, I wrote and illustrated my own children’s book.

I just never thought I could make the arts financially feasible. So I sought other career paths. But while studying for my Bachelor’s in Business Management at Babson College in Boston,  I found myself constantly seeking moments in the ceramics studio on campus to de-stress between classes and exams. Once I graduated and moved back to Dallas, I picked up a paintbrush to help calm my anxiety about my future. I prayed earnestly to God for years to help me find my purpose. Years later, with encouragement and support from my family and loved ones, I realized that my calling was my artwork. Shonda’s Art is the result.

What would you consider your aesthetic to be?

I’m a visual artist who specializes in portraiture in a post-Impressionist style. In other words, I like painting people and capturing their energy in a style that involves lots of colors, layers and varied strokes to give the impression of lights and shadows. This style is so wild and freeing. There are almost no solid lines or edges. So it creates a sense of movement and vibrance. I hate straight lines. So it works brilliantly for me. I’m also a very messy painter and this style is so forgiving. I love playing with mixed media, finding objects, newspaper clippings and words to include in a painting or sketch to add depth.

What is your latest project?

Right now, I’m preparing for a July exhibit and art series on Black Hair. I started playing with the concept a year ago after hearing a powerful poem on Hair by the now sadly deceased Dallas poet  Rage Almighty. That poem and its words about not forgetting the women who braid, twist, clip, etc reminded me of the importance of beauty shops and beauticians in the Black community. My widowed grandmother sustained herself and my mom through the work of her hands as a beautician and shop owner. I want to celebrate these women past and present in my life while paying homage to the powerful role of hair in our community. The series will feature my paintings, about 20 tiny portraits on leaf platelets and the work of incredible hand-selected artists around the theme. I will also host a series of intimate workshops and experiences that allow guests to join the exhibit, including a paint workshop, a poetry workshop, a hairshow and film screening, all around the topic of Black hair. The first iterations of the series will be hosted in Oak Cliff. It is also slated for display at the African American Musuem in Dallas at a later date.

This fall, I’m preparing for two exhibits. One is group exhibit in Boston with my Babson friend and fellow artist Jamaal Eversley that explores the concept of friends and colloborations. I’m working on a Dwayne Wayne and Steve Urkel piece with him.  The other is actually a co-exhibit in Dallas with my Dad. Before he retired, he started sketching these intricate mandala designs. I saw them and teased that if he did 100 of them we can get him his own art show. He did about 40 pieces and decided to do a show with me instead. It’s an honor.

What is your creative process?

I typically start with a theme or idea and then find the muse or medium to represent it. For the Black hair series, I looked for women, both in person and on social media, whose style and essence would be fun to capture in paint. With their permission, I print a copy of the picture, sketch it and then paint it with my signature twist.

Who are your go to inspirations?

There are a ton of fantastic artists in the local art scene doing amazing work. I follow a lot of them on social media and try to seek works in person if possible.  I loved going to Museums and galleries pre-COVID. Sometimes the atmosphere can be stuffy, but I try to pick spaces that are inviting and open to diverse crowds. I like doing quick sketching of passerbys for practice. I also belong to a couple of formal and informal art groups like We Here Collective and Art Goddesses. We feed off each other’s energy.  I can get ideas from the most random sources.  Cooking shows are one of my favorite sources when I need a creative boost. They inspire me to think outside the box.

Where do you see the visual art world in the next 5 years?

I think COVID 19 has forced us as artists to rethink our interactions with our work and audience. I see the work and spaces becoming much more intimate and exclusive. I see digital arts and digital media taking a more prominent role. For me, I see being more strategic about my work itself and how it is presented. I hope to have more features in juried exhibitions and gallery settings, but I also plan to keep curating my own shows and opportunities. I refuse to rely on someone else’s opinion to determine the currency of my work and artistry. But I am also pushing myself to learn more techniques and become better at my craft.

How can people support you?

So glad you asked. I am currently looking for sponsorships, both monetary and in-kind for the July Black Hair series.  For more information on how to help, please visit www.blackhairstoryartseries.wordpress.com for more information.  Sponsorships range from $6000 for the entire series to as little as $100 for a vendor opportunity.

Please share any online links to your work?

My art website is shondasart.com. It features my work past and present as well as media features. Subscribe to learn about future free and subsidized arts workshops and events.

My Black Hair Series website is blackhairstoryartseries.wordpress.com.  It gives more behind-the-scenes looks at the series and its origins and has opportunities for others to share their hair stories and experiences.

What are your social media handles?

You can follow me at @shondasart on Instagram and Twitter. On Facebook, my art page is also called Shondas Art. The Instagram for the upcoming Black Hair series is @hairstoryartseries. Thanks in advance for your support!

LaShonda Cooks’ Bio

LaShonda Cooks is a Dallas-based artist who dissects identity, cultural norms and beauty through post-impressionist acryllic paintings. Portraiture is her specialty. She loves using short pointillistic strokes and multiple colored layers to recreate the energy and essence of the people both real and imagined she paints. Her work has been featured at Babson College Hollister Gallery, Babson College Magazine, Dallas Post-Tribune, DART Martin Luther King Bus Stop, All Access Art Show, Miami Salute Life Show and MUCE Campus Miami.

She has curated two exhibits to date: Muses Art Show at TVAA Gallery and the Masks We Wear Exhibit featuring her work and work from community workshops thanks to a City of Dallas Cultural Affairs grant. She is a 2020 Recipient of the Iota Phi Lambda