Railey Cooley’s artistic path seemed set.
After graduating from the College of Charleston, she studied the classics for three years at the Florence Academy of Art in Italy. When she returned stateside, she was active in the institution’s newly established branch in New York City. She was then selected to be part of the distinguished Copyist program at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and earned a spot in their catalog. Classically trained and possessing the rare talent to render the essence of people and animals in oil, Cooley had a promising career ahead as a professional animal artist.
Then, while working abroad, Cooley had the opportunity to see India’s “incredibly majestic” wild animals up close. A new dream began to take root, and it marked a vivid change in the direction of her work. In 2019, her heart and her attention were captured in particular by the lion, and she did a very well-received series of studies on the King of the Jungle.
But inspiration can come to color all aspects of an artist’s vision.
Around the same time, Cooley also decided to try working with silver leaf. It produced just the right effect. “No matter the colors of the room, the silver leaf helps reflect them,” she explains. “It’s sort of camouflage with a pop art feel to it. Bold yet decorative, it helps make the work relevant to its surroundings.” She laughs. “It’s exciting to work to integrate a giant tiger into people’s living rooms!”
When you step into the room where Cooley spends her days, you may feel as if you’ve wandered into an old-fashioned English safari. Each large, white wall is dedicated to a specific piece, and the effect is formal rather than cozy. “My challenge is to capture these predatory animals and bring their presence into the room,” she says. She has accomplished this as the imposing stares of truly massive kudu, lions and black panthers dominate the space. “These animals are the most remarkable of their species,” she enthuses. “I’m just in awe of them, and it’s exhilarating to be surrounded by them.”
Cooley is also thrilled to be immersed in lush, tropical Savannah.
“I love Savannah, and I’m really excited to be living here; I meet the most interesting people!” Here at the studio, her beloved golden retriever Rio “loves to greet people,” says Cooley. “She’s the best dog in the world, and a great studio mate.”
Cooley stays busy, and currently has a number of rather impressive irons in the fire, including billboards in SoHo, Manhattan and on Amazon Prime that feature her work. This is an artist whose star is undeniably on the rise.
by Dani Ray