Meet Amanda Hope Cook, an oil painter who frequently explores themes of urban realism and preservation. Her subjects often include typographic signage, neon lights, and iconic landmarks (as seen in Cook’s limited edition print, Jack’s Bar-B-Que). We sat down with the artist to talk about painting, childhood, and of course, barbecue.
What do you like about oil paint that other mediums don’t offer?
Oil paint has a richness that no other paint and a depth that no other paint can compare to. I think acrylics are flat and I love color a lot so I stay away from watercolor. With oils you can glaze or paint directly. My dad was an oil painter and being around it, the smells, the linseed oil, the turpentine, it sounds weird, but it smells like home to me.
When you pick a neon sign to paint, are there certain things you consider?
Just for an example, Rocket Fizz across the street, that sign has only been there for two years. Buckeye Donuts, The Drexel [a historic movie theater in Columbus, OH] those signs have been around for decades. I like for people to be able to relate to the sign.
How many paintings do you work on at once?
I have six paintings going at once. Because I mostly work in layers, I’ll do one layer and then it has to dry. I use a drying medium, but six or seven [paintings]. Right now, I’m painting a new alphabet. In 2014 I did a Columbus Alphabet. I wasn’t directly influenced by Robert Cottingham, but everyone tells me, “Oh this is like Robert Cottingham’s.” The “X” is from the Drexel, the “B” is from Goody Boy, so I did one in 2014, and I’m doing a new one. The ones from 2014 were 8 x 8 inches, but these are 16 x 16. So with the alphabet, that’s more like 15 paintings going at once. And I also have a show in May  at Sharon Weiss gallery, so I’ve been busy.
Do you have a favorite material to depict with paint? When you’re painting do you get excited about the brick or the sky?
I think my favorite is when I paint daylight paintings of the neon signs where the glass tubing and the shadow cast. I love painting the glass tubing because of the way it catches the sun.
Do you listen to or watch anything while you paint?
Yeah. During Donald Trump’s impeachment trials that’s all I listened to. If not CNN, then I listen to true crime podcasts and I also will have a documentary in the background. Rarely is it music. I love music, but rarely is it ever music while I’m painting.
Do you feel that growing up in Nashville has impacted your artistic style?
Hmm…I say yes because my dad was a painter and he was really known for his barns and landscapes of Tennessee. And yeah, I believe that Nashville isn’t the same place as it was when I grew up there. I was just there two weeks ago and it’s crazy. There are so many people. It used to be that you could walk down Broadway with nobody. Now it’s people on pedaling bars. Mostly because under my dad’s influence and growing up there. Not particularly because of other artists in town.
What did you like to draw as a kid?
I drew silly stuff and cartoons a lot. I was not a good drawer; I was better than the other kids in the class, but looking back, it wasn’t good.
Did you have a favorite art teacher throughout your education?
I was in more of a commercial arts class all throughout high school. She was supportive and encouraging of me. My favorite college professor was Mr. Drummond who was such a good painter and was so patient, yet also tough.
Did you always feel like this was what you wanted to do?
Jack’s Bar-B-Que, our favorite neon sign painting of yours, have you been there? Is it delicious?
Yes and yes. Not only do I like the sign, but it’s also delicious food.
Looking Up, what else do you notice (other than neon signs)?
Initially when I started painting neon skies I was doing mostly sky paintings, and I did the sky right above the North Market [a public market in Columbus, OH], and you can see the rays from the sunshine and that’s interesting. In 2008-2009 I started shifting the perspective.
What is your favorite neon sign in the whole world?
I like the Loveless Cafe and Motel sign. Jack’s Bar-B-Que is pretty close.
Do you have a favorite artist?
I have a son named Wyeth after Andrew Wyeth, because I love all the Wyeths. And then John Singer Sargent. A real painter’s painter.
Pandemic Question: Good for painting? Or bad for painting?
My studio during the pandemic was in Millworks [art studios]. And when that explosion happened last year, the Majestic Paint [a neighboring factory] explosion I was like – I’m out. I painted a lot of still lifes, gouache, colored pencil. But no, it wasn’t great for painting.
What activity keeps you optimistic?
Painting. I have other hobbies, I yo-yo. I’m a yo-yo collector. My Dad, my grandfather and my uncle were all yo-yo guys.
What is your favorite meal?
I like lasagna, cheese burgers – comfort food, really. And BBQ.
Interested in adding Jack’s Bar-B-Que to your collection? Click here to learn more.