BY BRITT KENNERLY
Via Florida Today
MELBOURNE, Fla. — Beaches across Brevard County exploded in color over recent weeks, thanks to an artist dubbed the “flower bomber.”
The petal-pushing Cook, who lives in Minneapolis, didn’t make any money planting big, bold blooms and butterflies at Jetty Park. Cocoa Beach. The Exploration Tower at Port Canaveral. The sand behind the Ron Jon resort, where Cook fashioned flowers and butterflies on his bed.
His reward, the 49-year-old said, came from watching the reactions of passers-by who view his creations.
“I never stand beside my work. I stand back far enough just to guard them,” he said, pointing to the lawn chair that was his perch on the beach at Cape Canaveral.
“It’s more fun watching people from a distance and seeing their faces, watching them respond. You don’t have to say anything — the flowers speak for themselves.”
Near the Ron Jon Resort, Cook grinned as people posed for photos by his artwork. Many simply stared at the 13 pieces, some of which took four to five hours apiece to create, and smiled.
Janice Watson of Columbus, Ohio, was one of more than a dozen people who approached the flowers in the span of just a few minutes.
“It’s beautiful. Gorgeous,” Watson told Cook as the incoming tide started to lap at the “stems.”
“It’s amazing to see this on the beach.”
Many struck up a conversation with Cook and his friend, artist Janet Martin of Minneapolis, who has a daughter in Brevard County.
Seven years into sobriety, Cook credits Martin and her family with the support he needed to not only survive, but thrive.
“This is the result of getting well,” he said. “Seven years later, I’m standing here on a beach watching people enjoy this. … It’s surreal.”
The plants that come pouring from Cook’s head, heart and hands might not have taken root years ago.
As a child in Minnetonka, Minn., he said, he was a “closeted artist” who played hockey and other sports but loved making clay figurines.
Not until his 20s did he become a serious artist. And he had always liked flowers, but fell in love with sunflowers and their colors as he walked the El Camino de Santiago trail in Spain three years ago.
While he’s made flowers out of materials like broken mirrors and wire, Cook started growing them from Duck Tape a couple of years ago, recalling the sunflowers in Spain and their “almost-human” faces.
“I just love Duck Tape — the colors are so vibrant,” said Cook.
He sowed his first shoots in a scrapyard. Moved on to snowdrifts. Hospitals. Public places, like parks and the Cocoa Beach Pier, where Cook first dropped flower bombs last year.
As pictures of Cook’s work have spread on Facebook and through the press in cities from Grand Rapids to Cleveland, ShurTech Brands, which owns Duck Tape, responded, giving him two cases so far — one of which he has been using on the Space Coast.
Company officials were “flower bombed” earlier this year, said Melanie Canning, communications manager.
“He did some great flowers in front of our offices here in Avon, Ohio, in our snow piles,” said Canning.
“They look much different on the beach. We like what he’s doing. Some of the things he’s doing in hospitals . it’s just really a way to bring smiles to people’s faces and utilize Duck Tape to do the unexpected and lift spirits.”
Cook has advice as hardy as a perennial for young artists who, stifled by expectations or convention, might feel as unsatisfied as he once did.
“Just do it. Make art,” said Cook.
“Art is not something you want to do, it’s something you have to do. Life is so strange. And it can be short. At almost 50, I’m doing something so fulfilling, making people so happy. … I could die knowing I did something that made people smile. It’s incredible.”