Fernie-born songwriter and visual artist, Troy “Bubba” Cook. Kimberley Vlasic/The Free Press

Cancer diagnosis motivates Fernie artist

Troy “Bubba” Cook’s latest exhibition on show at The Arts Station from February 28 to March 25

Nothing motivates an artist to finish a collection like being told they only have nine months to live.

Faced with this grim prognosis, Troy “Bubba” Cook threw himself into his art while undergoing treatment for stage four cancer.

The Fernie-born songwriter and visual artist was already transitioning back into fine art after years of focusing on his music when he learned he had the disease.

“That kind of threw a boomerang into the whole thing, so then it just became more important to get the show done because I didn’t know where my health was going take me, I didn’t know if I was going to be around for a long time, I still don’t really know,” he admitted.

“It made it more present… suddenly you’re diagnosed with cancer, you’re like ‘I gotta get some stuff done’.”

Cook continued to create while undergoing chemotherapy and came to rely on his craft.

“I was noticing as I got sicker and things were weirder, and things got darker, that I was leaning heavily on writing songs and making art,” he recalled.

Cook decided to produce a piece a day, documenting his progress on Instagram.

He created over 200 pieces, 100 of which will appear in a book being produced by local publisher, Oolichan Books.

“The art was like therapy almost, a distraction and important to me at the same time,” he said.

“Rabbit Dreams of the Shapeshifter” is the culmination of Cook’s artistic experimentations during that time and the themes he has explored over his decades-long career.

The collection features his trademark pop surrealist style with some added wordplay.

“… as an artist I’m kinda like Daniel Johnston, I have themes to everything,” he said.

“When I write songs, I write in packs of songs… it’s sort of like a mish-mash of all those sort of themes that I really like and I use words in this art.

“I’ve never really used words a lot but every painting has got lots of words in them, not unlike Jean-Michel Basquiat… I suppose he’s one of the people that was an influence on this show with me.”

Cook works with a variety of mediums, including oil, acrylic, paint pen and acrylic ink.

While his latest collection features a range of subjects, one recurring theme is rabbits.

“I love rabbits. I don’t know (why),” he said.

“I think I saw that movie Harvey the Rabbit when I was a kid and it’s just one of those things… I love the animal but visually I think it’s a cool looking thing and maybe that’s why I’ve attached to it.

“But yeah rabbits have always been huge, everything I do has rabbits in it.”

Cook is facing more chemotherapy and possible surgery but fortunately his outlook has improved since that initial prognosis.

As a Fernie local – or a “true vampire” as he puts it – Cook has a lot of memories in the area.

He was born in the old hospital where The Park Place Lodge now stands and was one of the first artists to show at The Arts Station when it opened nearly 30 years ago.

Back then, the restaurant was run by volunteers and tables spilled into the gallery.

Cook has been president of The Arts Station board “a million times” and currently holds the position.

“This is my home, this building is very special to me,” he said.

Rabbit Dreams of the Shapeshifter opened at The Arts Station on Thursday, February 28. The collection will be on display until March 25.

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