America’s Sports Car ~ July, August, September 2024

America's Sports Car Magazine - July / Aug / Sept 2024

Beauty in the Abstract: A.D. Cook and Hyper-Realism Art

by Robert Maxhimer, Director of Cultural Affairs & Education, National Corvette Museum

A.D. Cook in America's Sports Car Magazine - July 2024 - pages 6-7

 America’s Sports Car ~ July/Aug/September 2024 | pages 6&7

“The object of art is not to reproduce reality, but to create a reality of the same intensity.”

With the advent and rapid evolution of artificial intelligence over the previous few years, an existential debate has been born with one area of our reality at the center, creativity. Ai has forced us as a society to come to terms with what it means to create and celebrate art in all forms. Specifically, as art is viewed as an inherently human medium of expression if a program helps to fill in the blanks or even create an artwork all on its own and is devoid of consciousness or emotion, can we then have it be considered “art” at all? As Ai technology continues to advance, it is becoming increasingly difficult to differentiate between the reality of what is organically created, or mechanically manufactured. 

Long before artificial intelligence consumed all conversations related to the blurred line of assisted creativity, artists had often found themselves at the center of the question, “How is art defined?” Art, whether it be a sculpture, painting, photograph, theatrical production, or film is inherently subjective and interpreted only through the eyes of the individual viewing it in that given moment. The viewer consumes and digests the art, not as a computer program might with cold ones and zeros, but through the filter of their memories, experiences, and opinions formed over many years or mere seconds before their eyes reach the canvas.

A key element to the art debate is defining what the objective of art is in our culture. Is art a means to escape the reality we live in the day-to-day, a way to see an object or landscape that would otherwise be foreign to us or is the objective to bend reality into a world of surrealism? Honestly, the debate has been ongoing from the time of Aristotle in ancient Greece who believed “… art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.” This is in direct contradiction of the works produced by Rembrandt or Vermeer who were dedicated to realism in portraiture. These paintings, along with the Mona Lisa or still life works from Caravaggio and Adriaen van der Spelt, aim to reflect life at such a hyper-realistic quality that it draws in the viewer to a time, feeling, or emotion captured forever on canvas. You cannot help but be in awe of the dedication and discipline required to achieve this level of artistic ability, but it is precisely because of this ability and discipline that you are forced to focus on art, not the artists themselves.

Although most of the art referenced above was produced in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries and contributed to the Baroque movement, the core of that movement has evolved and manifested itself in many areas of the art world today. A new movement, hyperrealism, is the center of an exhibition that has recently premiered at the National Corvette Museum. Occupying the newly renovated Limited Engagement Gallery, Luster: Realism and Hyperrealism in Contemporary Automobile and Motorcycle Painting takes its cues from the works of the Baroque movement and replaces the royal noblemen and bowls of fruit with a variety of beautiful vehicles. One piece specifically, Momentum created by artist A.D. Cook, was recently commissioned, and premiered at the National Corvette Museum on March 14, 2024. The piece was created as a diptych, one piece in two parts, and highlights the spectrum of the Corvette story which spans over 70 years. On the left panel, we see the iconic 1953 C1 Corvette, where it all started, with its soft features and instantly recognizable white and red color scheme. On the right, the aggressive and commanding 2023 70th Anniversary C8 Corvette, still sporting the white paint but with angles so sharp they look dangerous. Pinning these two vehicles directly next to each other, almost overlapping on the canvas, provides for a juxtaposition so strong that it demands attention to the designs shared between them.

“Art is not freedom from discipline, but disciplined freedom.”

A.D. Cook in America's Sports Car Magazine - July 2024 - pages 8-9

 America’s Sports Car ~ July/Aug/September 2024 | pages 8&9

Artists who work in realism and hyperrealism have the unique opportunity to create a reality and then, subtly, and deliberately, manipulate reality to make it their own. At times it can be difficult to recognize that these pieces are painted and created by a human rather than shot with a camera. But upon further inspection, once your eyes can focus on the details, it becomes clear that this is not a reflection of reality, but rather an abstract interpretation of the artist’s world. 

Much like the artists who worked in realism and hyperrealism before him, A.D. Cook’s skill and discipline are on full display in the Luster exhibition. A.D. hails from sunny Las Vegas, Nevada where he enjoys being involved with both the artists and car communities that flourish in the Nevada desert. A.D. is a lifelong lover of the arts and for many years was the one responsible for all the art seen at the Hollywood Video rental chains across the country. Shortly after that time, A.D. went on to start and run a successful graphic design company with clients all over the world. Over the last several years, A.D. has had the opportunity to focus solely on his passion, hyperrealism art both with vehicles, and human subjects.

I had the opportunity to speak with A.D. recently to understand what it takes to create a hyper-realistic painting and hear a little more of his personal experiences that eventually led him to create the piece Momentum.

What was the genesis of the Luster exhibition, when did you get involved?

David Wagner said in 2018 that it would be a two-year tour. It was six years ago this March, that it kicked off in Daytona and then it just kept growing and growing and growing. They keep calling us back asking, “Can we borrow the art back for another year?”  Finally, we were all just like, “Let us know when you’re done with them.” That is how it started.

One piece that struck me was America, the painting of the Harley with the American flag on the gas tank. I feel like that must have a story behind it.

One of my collectors owns the Harley dealership in Tacoma. He flew me up there to photograph this bike because he wanted to sell it, and he wanted something to remember it by. He asked me to go up there and do a commission, and I did. I shipped it to him and about a month later, I called him and asked if I could borrow the painting for a couple of years. He had it in his house for only a month or two.

One of the most exciting parts of hosting this exhibition for us at the National Corvette Museum was the unveiling of your newest work, Momentum. There is a lot to go over, but I want to start with the beginning. Was this a piece you had wanted to do before Curator, David Wagner, approached you?

Well, my understanding of the story is that it happened about a year ago when a couple of Museum staff members were at the Duesenberg Museum and saw the Luster exhibit there and mentioned Indian Summer specifically. David [Wagner] called and asked, “Would you like to participate in Luster at the National Corvette Museum?” I am a former Corvette owner, so I said, “Oh yeah, absolutely, no doubt!” I had a blank check to create whatever I wanted, so then I asked what the largest painting of the show was, and I was told that it was that 96-inch piece. I thought the Corvette could not be the second-largest piece in the show!

I like to tell stories, and that is what I wanted to create the story of, the seventy-year transition and a little bit of my connection with Corvette. That is the Hollywood Video Rental mountains in the back because I drove a Corvette when I lived in Hollywood(*).

Hanging the two paintings together with the Stingray reflecting the ’53 in the mirror of 2023, they can hang together but they can also hang alone.

I noticed throughout a lot of the paintings in the Luster exhibition, that hidden easter eggs seem to be a common theme. Did you hide anything in Momentum?

In Momentum as a whole, definitely. There are the Hollywood Video Rental mountains, and the Pisces constellation above them, that is for me because I am a Pisces, but also because that car was created on March 9. The VIN is hidden in the grill and the Stingray reflection in the windshield. On the right side in Evolution, the VIN is hidden in the grill again, very small. If I had another month, I would have hidden a few more. There is so much happening in those paintings, the license plate is a painting… the taillight is a painting.

I was going to ask you about that, you mentioned your process when we spoke earlier, and it sounds unique to this style of painting. So, it is individual paintings that come together into one, is that right?

I treated it like the taillight was a painting, and the grill specifically of the ’53, and then the headlights. After I was done with them to a point, I covered them all up and then masked them with masking tape, I did not paint it all white, because I am airbrushing and everything is covered, so it is protected from overspray. After I unwrap it, I do everything I can to merge the two. It does not look like pieces are cut out and taped, so I go over it with brushes and other tools.

Is that the process for all your paintings? Or was that specific to this one because it was so big?

Yes, when it is a subject like this, you are going from like a white part to bright green, I had to protect the canvas while I was painting the green, so I did not have to keep painting over the white. That is why I wanted to make the white the last thing I painted so if there are any fixes or faux pas, I can take care of them before I start doing the blue shading or shadowing.

I am sure this is not a quick process, so how long does it take to complete a painting of this size and scope?

Well, we started talking about it right about a year ago, and it did not take long for me to say, “Well yeah!’” David came back and said “Let’s do it” after approximately three weeks. I committed then I had to find the cars and source a first-generation Corvette. The C8s are easy, but I wanted a specific 70th Anniversary edition because the whole story is about the 70th Anniversary.

The C1 was amazingly simple to find. I just went to cars and coffee here in Las Vegas as I do every so often and someone told me of a lady named Candice, who was a concourse delegate, with an award-winning ’53. I gave her a call and I was there within an hour. She committed to it and then I had to search for a 2023. She called several people in the Corvette club who offered up their cars. Coincidentally, one of my big collectors here had just taken delivery of a brand new 2023 70th Anniversary Z06 with carbon fiber wheels.

Now that I had my two Corvettes, I just started drawing, taking a sketch pad, and sitting down with a beer somewhere and just sketching different ideas. The 70th Anniversary parked with the ’53 in the reflection of the window, what do I want to do? That sketch that eventually became Momentum just kept popping up. Looking forward and moving so the ’53 is coming to you and 2023 is going into the future. People have asked, “Why didn’t you just do both of them pointed at you?” It is not about a car show, it is about a circle.

Once I hunkered down, I started Gessoing the canvas, which takes an application a day for three months. If you notice up close, you do not see the canvas, it is a process I developed called slate-smooth canvas. It has no canvas detail and that allows me to paint detail.

Momentum took about three good months, resolving a lot of things, googling tire trends, or the difference between Polo White and Arctic White. Some people do not see all the research that happens in the background.

A.D. Cook in America's Sports Car Magazine - July 2024 - pages 10-11

 America’s Sports Car ~ July/Aug/September 2024 | pages 10&11

Well, they do not see it unless it is wrong…

Exactly, I still have people point things out, and I am like “Where were you when I painted it!” I had to work through Christmas and New Year’s because I had a deadline, but it was a total blast, and I am now thinking, “What is the next ‘Vette I get to paint!”

You mentioned that you produced the idea, and then you sketched it out. Right? And then you went and shot the cars? Do you have an idea when you are shooting the cars? Or is it more about getting the angles of the cars and different textures and things? Or is it lining them up in a way that you would want to paint them?

Well, it is a lot of both and also the light, like which way the sun is pointed, and when the shadows are going to fall, and shooting at a certain time, because I wanted long shadows, and a good place, so all of those things need to come together. Then you have two owners, and this person is available this Saturday, but the other owners are not. It is like a little project itself just getting everything together, but it was worth it.

To answer your question, I have an idea of how I want it, but I shoot a hundred different ways, just in case. When I work with models, I might have a pose, but sometimes something happens getting to the pose is more interesting, you must be open to happy accidents.

You do a lot of portraits of human subjects; do you find it different to paint an organic subject versus something that is metal and steel?

It is hugely different. Once again, the pieces are compartmentalized on a car, and if you are doing realism for any kind, whether it be of car, motorcycle, or anything manufactured, you must adhere to those shapes, unless you are going surreal, and you are going to intentionally exaggerate. With a model, I can elongate or cover a tattoo, but with a car, my biggest fear is someone saying, “It’s missing something!” There is a point where I follow the photo and then I put the photo away and say, “Let’s have fun.” That is where the hidden things come in, it is when you can twist the story, and people still think it is a photo.

What struck me looking at your paintings is that, from a distance, they look like photographs, but up close you can see all the brush strokes and techniques.

It is chaos if you get close. The grill is a bunch of scribbles up close, but step back and suddenly, it comes into focus. I think that, whether it is people or cars, is where I find beauty in the abstract.

And where did all this start with you personally, how did you end up in the art world?

Well, I was a construction brat, so I was the new kid in school three times a year in Colorado, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Florida. There was no rhyme or reason, my dad would just say to my siblings, “Grab a box, we’re leaving in the morning.” You only got to take what could fit in the box, which meant I lost two violins, and half a dozen bicycles. I learned to hold onto those pencils though, pencils and paper fit in the box with Madd magazine and eventually Hot Rod magazine. That is what is important, what we take forward in your box may only be limited physically.

Momentum paintings by A.D. Cook, 2024
Click image for more about MOMENTUM, acrryic on canvas, 48" x 120"

My Special Thanks

A special thanks to David J. Wagner, who has beautifully curated and promoted the LUSTER Exhibition through six years and eighteen world-class museums (and counting). Well done, David.

National Corvette Museum official logoSpecial thanks to the National Corvette Museum for hosting the LUSTER Exhibition from March 15 through Jan 5, 2025.

Finally, thanks to the owners of my two Corvette muses, the 1953 C1 and the 2023 C8 Stingray, for making it all happen so smoothly, and to the Southern Highlands Golf Club for the use of their beautiful property for our photoshoot.

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© 2024 Copyright National Corvette Museum. Used by permission.

Magazine layout & design by Aaron Drexler & Moriah Mondragon.
Article photos by A.D. Cook © 2023 – 2024

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