In March, Alex Cook was in St. Louis, painting a mural at a college. With the outbreak of COVID-19 gathering steam, he decided to return to Verona, his part-time home for the last five years. But instead of preparing his departure for his next mural commissions in California and Montana, Cook found himself on lockdown with the rest of Verona, walking the streets with his fiancé and looking at the lawn signs and chalk art.
“We have probably walked every street in Verona five times,” Cook says. “We have seen so many things that people are doing to communicate. It was very touching to me to see this desire to communicate.”
And so it was that Cook found himself taking apart an old ping-pong table in his fiancé’s house to make his own communication, an echo of the more than 70 “You Are Loved” murals that he has painted all over the country. The Verona sign stands on the front lawn of 170 Claremont Avenue, just west of Elmwood Road. Every week, Cook intends to paint it over with a new variation of his “You Are Loved” message. He has already seen many walkers stop by to see the sign, and hopes there will be more.
Cook is a multi-disciplinary artist and musician who, when not in Verona or traveling for a commission, also lives in Boston. His main website and Facebook page display some of the interior and exterior works that he has created all over the world.
The “You Are Loved” murals grew out of a commission for an elementary school in New Orleans in the fall of 2013. Cook had been asked to create something that would help students to feel safe. “I’m reaching inside myself for ideas,” he recalls, “when I thought, why am I trying to be subtle about it? What if we just said it?”
Cook believes that people want to know that they are loved, whether they are in schools, in their communities, in homeless shelters or even behind bars, where Cook has worked as a prison chaplain. “Most of us are longing to have a voice tell us that,” he says. “That is the centering fact of life. People feel better when they think people value them.”
It is hard to tell someone that they are loved, and harder still to express it in public. The size and scale of Cook’s murals say it emphatically and he hopes that they give their viewers the confidence to say it too. “I’m doing this to be a support to a community,” says Cook says, who designs his murals to be a community project. He lays out the lettering and colors on the wall and then invites the sponsoring community in to paint sections of the work.
Cook says he once struggled with depression and that his personal experience has given him a sensitivity to the difficulties that other people face–and a means of addressing it. “You can meet dark thoughts with better thoughts,” he says.
Every week for the foreseeable future, Cook will be repainting his repurposed ping-pong table with a new “You Are Loved” message. Weather permitting, he will do the work on Mondays, outside on the lawn, and he invites walkers to stop by to watch, and share photos of the sign with the hashtag #youarelovedverona. You can also follow the project on Instagram.
“This is what I love to do,” Cook says. “I hope people will keep coming by.”