For Brett Cook, public participation is art 

When Brett Cook talks about the work he’s done for his upcoming art exhibit, “Supernatural,” at the new, sky-lit, warehouse-sized Guerrero Gallery in San Francisco, he may or may not be talking about paintings on a wall.

“I think of my practice as a spectrum,” says the Berkeley-based artist, for whom community building and social activism are media just as viable as painting and collage.

“On one end of a spectrum, I make things,” he says. A portrait of his grandmother, for example,  includes a shrine-like assemblage of her personal items, most notably a rosy-pink rug, underneath a painting of her likeness.

“On the other end of the spectrum I may not make anything. It may be facilitation.” That could mean murals made by a group of schoolchildren under Cook’s advisement.

“Supernatural,” which opens June 5 with a reception, offers glimpses of Cook’s work at both ends of that spectrum, and at a few points in between, where he acts as maker and orchestrator at the same time.

One project that involves both fabrication and facilitation is a series of portraits of luminaries such as Martin Luther King Jr., environmental activist Julia Butterfly Hill and the Buddhist monk/peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh.

Cook made 10-foot-high drawings of their faces while he was an artist in residence at the Headlands Center for the Arts (and at another residency program in New York), placed the drawings in galleries, and invited visitors to color them in. Hundreds did. Many added their own drawings and writings, and Cook later added some final embellishments.

“We think an artwork has to be related to control, related to an individual master,” Cook says. “Part of my expertise is I’m trying to create an architecture where everyone can be successful. People have the freedom to do anything they want.”

“I’d like to think that part of my work is about cultivating awareness and helping us remember the interconnectedness of all things,” he adds.

Making something, he says, whether you’re a professionally trained artist or not, is a way of refining your awareness.

For the opening reception for “Supernatural,” Cook will prove his commitment to the idea of inclusiveness not only by supplying tables, drawing materials and clay for anyone who wants to sit down and create something; he’s also scheduled a marathon eight-hour reception from 3 to 11 p.m. to accommodate everyone from families with young children to late-night partygoers, and he hopes they’ll all pick up an oil pastel and draw.



Where: Guerrero Gallery, 2700 19th St., San Francisco
When: Opens June 5; 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays; noon to 5 p.m. Sundays; closes July 3
Admission: Free
Contact: (415) 400-5168,
Note: Reception from 3 to 11 p.m. June 5 features chef-author-food justice advocate Bryant Terry; artists’ collective Trust Your Struggle; artist-educator Evan Bissell, and participatory art-making for the public.

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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