Cookie K, Paris

Exiting the Metro station I found myself lost in Paris at night.

Strike that.

I wouldn’t say necessarily that I was lost, but incredibly unfamiliar, as I had been here months before .. but the district laid like puzzle pieces in a dream that I was so desperate to connect the meaning of.

It was my last interview for my Paris chapter of “Drag Landscapes”, and I was barely making it as I had a flight from Charles De Gaulle back to Chicago in the next few hours. My phone had only 5% left on it, so I had written down the instructions to his place on a ripped piece of paper from my art book.

In front of me laid a street that stopped and created a circle around a church, as if the street itself was afraid of God. My humor of the thought quickly dissipated as I saw the floodlights of around the church blare around the structure.. making it abnormally whiter that anything around it. The sky around it was a cauldron of soupy fog that seemed to stretch and pirouette around its alabaster skin like a battalion of ghost ballerinas who were forgetful about their previous human form.

I pulled out my crumpled well worn page of directions, and like clockwork, a well calculated spit take of rain smattered my page as if the sky had heard an amazing joke from the moon. I watched the words of Rue De Domremy blur into “RueeeeDoeeemmeeee” and the street number decided to water color itself out as a hopeful candidate of a Rorschach test.

I whispered “…fuck…” to myself, realizing I was going to be late, and ran to the nearest cover to grab my phone (which was slowly dying) to text them. Back on track I hurried through the streets around Quartier Asiatique repeating the directions out loud like a madman convinced that the conversation he was having with the air was a legitimate person. The sky darkened from the ghostly glow of fog into the deep black night as I furthered into the twisting streets and alleyways of the city to my destination.

I seemed to have arrived as his place at the right moment.. as the sky belched a soft purring jaguar roar of distant thunder, and the rain.. which was considered an afterthought of a joke turned .. into quite a serious conversation about precipitation.

He answered the door. He was backlit by the warm glow of his apartment building’s interior lighting which exactly matched the warmth of his expression… as if the science of warmth in regards to wavelengths of light and emotion could somehow meet to give the same answer of two different equations.

I was surprised by his warmth, and this wasn’t because of anything that related to his personality as he was known as one of the friendliest queens in the city. I think I was surprised because in all of the other interviews, people had told me that he was THE ONE TO MEET…. and because of that expectation.. I assumed with what came with such great praise.. came with such ‘divadom’ and… that clearly wasn’t the case. I should have assumed otherwise really from the beginning.. as the queens of Paris were by far the humblest and kindest queens I had ever met in my journey around the world in my socio-geographical project.

We interviewed while the rain poured harder and harder outside. There was a point where it was so loud that I couldn’t even hear him.. to which we both started laughing and exclaiming “IT IS GONNA BE CRAAAAAZZZY!”. Throughout the interview I felt myself spiraling down the rabbit hole of his story and life.. and it seemed that I could have interviewed him for months and still I would have found more fascinating things about him.

His name is Cookie, and he is a legend.

Cookie was born in Montreal Quebec, but at 2 years old he left with his nomadic parents to various parts of the world. From Montreal, Santo Domingo, Guadaloupe, to Toulouse, Pezenas, and Paris.. Cookie learned to speak Spanish, English, and French fluently. Hearing about his travels as a kid fascinated me… and it’s because of the stark contrast of where I grew up. Being southern, the idea of crossing the county line was considered being a world traveler, and visiting anywhere north of the Mason Dixon line and west of Louisiana was considered space travel (I would have considered Texas a part of this ideology.. but Texas is much like Pluto in where we are still figuring out if it’s a planet).

Despite the hardships of being queer, which is so prevalent in people’s coming out stories,… Cookie’s relationship with his family is by far one of the sweetest. “I wasn’t really afraid of coming out to my parents because of me being gay or doing drag. It was something different than that. I come from a very accepting family. My sister is transgender, and had been a drag queen out in Nice, France. She helped me with the idea of drag. It wasn’t about fear when it came to my parents and myself. I just didn’t want to be a burden because I would be another person in the family to come out. In the end it was never a burden for them. They accepted me fully.”

Cookie moved to Paris to further his education in the arts. He explained that in the beginning, his interest in drag came from his drawings of other queens. His art work is intense with fine tuned detailing, almost to the point where the viewer questions the reality of it being a multimedia combination of photography and illustration. His sense of soft realistic organic blending and shading mixed with the contrast of stark geometric bliss of illustration combines this otherworldly presence of the portraiture subject. I combed through his work in furthering my research after the interview and would consistently mutter under my breath to myself in a zoetrope spin of envy and adoration “ugh…this is so good… that bastard.. he’s amazing”.. which is a true action of an artist’s love for someone else’s work.

Looking at his drawings, it made complete sense on Cookie’s aesthetic, as his makeup is flawlessly detailed. His look is an exaggeration of unreal female beauty standards, often with impossible human dimensions making the concept of glamour extraterrestrial. It is with this detail and magnitude of defying gender structures that Cookie becomes a walking conversation in his art.

After all. Art is composed of two structures that really make itself whole. It is comprised of not just the physical piece, but is largely made animate by the conservation that it strikes up.

Art is nothing without conversation.

As we ended the interview with my standard question of “What does the future hold for you?”, we ran off through the rain which seemed to sputter out of it’s previous downpour. We ended up at Le Souffleurs in where I would hang out with him and the previous queens that I interviewed that week. I was so happy to have my ending day in Paris with the people who were a part of this project… as more importantly they were not just future portraits.. but people I could call my friends.

I would end up painting Cookie and her story a few weeks later out in Chicago. It would be the first time that I painted somebody while being away from the country where I interviewed them… and the disconnect with my location, their story, and portrait showed greatly in the final product. While I was initially happy with the outcome, the dissatisfaction of my own ability began to grow more and more until it became unbearable.

I ended up trying again because when it comes to this project.. anything less than great is nothing at all.

In this second round I really felt like I got it right. and in the end.. “Cookie Kunty // La Nomade” came to be. I am so happy to show this to ya’ll and I hope you like it..

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