Hours before sunrise, artist David Cook is already at it, twisting and bending metal to his will, mixing concrete, his veins flowing with caffeine as he cuts, shapes and paints neon hues of duct tape in his Hastings’ studio.
When inspiration hits, neither he nor his towering flowers, pinwheels, caterpillars and butterflies can slumber, Cook said. The gallery and museum painter and sculptor is now better known as the street artist “the Flower Bomber” in the Twin Cities — and across the country, thanks to the Internet.
It was never his plan, and there’s certainly not any money in Flower Bombing (a nom de guerre with which a Facebook friend tagged him). But for the past 1 ½ years, the 49-year-old’s been re-creating Willy Wonka wonders and Pink Floyd flower arrangements on snowbanks, lawns and beaches.
“It’s so simple. People see them. They smile. That’s it,” said Cook while rarely breaking his own toothy grin. “It’s universal. Children point. People stop walking. They talk. Families and friends gather ’round for pictures.”
And Cook watches, sometimes for up to eight hours a day, from “my dying van,” he said. He’s protecting his singular babies — he has more than 50 of them — from thieves, overexcited admirers and authorities alike, Cook said.
“I just like to take in the action,” Cook said. “I’m only trying to bring a little happiness to people, to make the world a slightly better place. If that sounds corny, fine.”
In between prankster-like laughs, the seven-years sober Cook said that something else, in part, drives him.
“Call it my redemption, I guess. I don’t know, if that’s the right word. Maybe, because for years, I was a tornado. I’m a bad boy doing a good thing.”
Cook, who sells his paintings and has a musical in preproduction, is hardly a celebrity soaking in the swag. The press coverage, some of which came from the Hastings’ paper and art board, Lavender Magazine and then during a recent Florida trip, has so far only netted him free Duck Tape (that particular brand), which helps a lot actually, Cook said.
“What I really want is to get on ‘Ellen’ and find a way to do this all over the place,” he said. “Get a new van.”
His sister and best friend, Suzy Pederson, a Minneapolis financial adviser, is his greatest fan, especially since he got sober and found a true, if surreal, purpose, she said. That’s even if it means him spending days on end awake painting and planning.
“The thing is, everybody loves them,” Pederson said of the flowers. “They just make people happy. The reaction is almost unfathomable, so powerful, especially this winter.”
Cook and his “alter-ego” are on an almost inexplicable, existential journey, a “crazy, passionate artist thing” with no end in sight.
The vision began while the Minnetonka native was living in Chicago, where he worked as a caterer “for all the important people.” He began leaving his reclaimed industrial figurative sculptures in abandoned lots and on his front lawn.
It made people look, he said.
Then a 500-mile El Camino de Santiago trek across Spain and the constant sight of its sunflowers came into play, Cook said. One fall day, he found himself driving aimlessly with his first batch of flowers and hasn’t stopped since.
He planted them in First Bridge Park on the downtown side of the Hennepin Avenue Bridge in Minneapolis.
“I think it’s the exhibitionist in me,” Cook said. “Sometimes I have no idea where I’m going. I’m just there.”
Cook’s had his flowers taken down four times by Minneapolis parks officials at Harriet and Calhoun lakes. Once he was surrounded by police cars during yet another impromptu “exhibit” at the University of Minnesota’s main entrance. Somehow, he said, he’s managed no tickets or arrests.
He said it’s seemingly impossible for him to get a Minneapolis Park Board permit ahead of time. Besides, it would take away from the fun — although, Cook said, it was nice to have permission to place his art inside and out of Orchestra Hall on a recent Sunday.
“Yes, it’s always a good idea to have permission,” chimed in Nancy Jamieson, his longtime pal and Friends of the Minnesota Orchestra president.
He set up for the organization’s Friends and Family Concerts series with the Minnesota Orchestra. Children are encouraged to handle and play the instruments before the performance.
“David’s here to create the magic,” Jamieson said of the sculptures inside to match the raucous color outside. “He always brings the magic.”
Christopher J. Hamilton is a Twin Cities freelance writer.