Even when tackling tough subjects such as race, identity, and feminism, the paintings of LaShonda Cooks ’10 fairly vibrate with joy. That’s no accident. “Painting is my happy place,” says the Dallas native, who counts portraits of superhero Wonder Woman, tennis great Serena Williams, jazz trumpeter Chet Baker, and actress Lupita Nyong’o among her works. In that happy place, Cooks creates canvasses alive with bold color, in a style influenced by pointillist painters such as Georges Seurat.
The daughter of an art teacher, Cooks says she was “always interested in the arts.” But even in high school, she recognized the value of a business background for an aspiring artist, and after a Babson brochure found its way into her hands, she thought the College might be the right place for her. An Enrico Dallas Scholarship—a four-year award for Dallas-area students— sealed the deal.
At Babson, Cooks was active in theater and on the student newspaper but always enjoyed the refuge of the ceramics studio. “Back then, very few students would venture there,” she says, “but for me it was therapeutic and peaceful.”
She turned to painting after Babson. Now, when she finishes her day job as an insurance adjuster for Geico, Cooks can be found in her studio for two hours every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday (“just to structure it a little bit”). She also leads free paint parties at a local recreation center. “That’s my way of giving back,” she says.
Much of her work is done on commission. Clients typically provide photos of loved ones, and Cooks brings her distinctive style to each portrait. “I try to capture their essence,” she says. But her own artwork ranges much more freely. “I like to paint what inspires me,” she says. “Dancers, movement, couples, a ballerina. Women that are strong and powerful. Women of color.” Questions about female identity intrigue her, as she grapples with societal notions of “what a woman is, and what a woman isn’t.”
However substantive her themes, Cooks’ work remains ebullient. “I like to capture a range of emotions,” she says, “but typically, they’re happier emotions. My paintings are pretty serene and joyous.”
Cooks and classmate Jamaal Eversley ’10 will hold a joint art exhibition on campus in the Hollister Gallery. The show opens on Back to Babson weekend, starting September 15.