Former Andalusia resident finds love for painting despite end-stage glaucoma

Published 11:00 am Saturday, October 21, 2023

James Cocke, formerly of Andalusia and now a resident of Valdosta, Georgia, is a visually impaired artist with end-stage glaucoma who took up painting later in his life.

Cocke painted this picture of a cowboy riding a horse, which won
him an award in a Georgia Artists with Disabilities contest. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)

Cocke, 71, lost his right eye entirely following complications from a surgery and has battled end-stage glaucoma in his left eye. Despite that and other health issues, he turned to painting for a hobby and has not looked back on his newfound passion since then.

“I had to retire early due to end-stage glaucoma and sat around the house. I lost one eye to a botched surgery, and my good eye was getting worse. I went to 10 different doctors, and my doctor referred me to the Jacksonville Jaguars team eye doctor down in St. Augustine, Florida. I credit him with saving what vision I had left. When I returned home, I listened to music and watched TV when I could. My wife asked me what I wanted for Father’s Day a year ago, and I told her to get some paint and brushes to do some painting,” Cocke said.

Cocke added that he sees abstract images on the wall each morning when he wakes up whether his eyes are open or shut. His left eye is the one he sees the images out of.

Cocke painted this picture of a bird planting its beak. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)

“I wanted to recreate those images even though they are in black and white every morning. They are not identical but are very similar, so I started painting those, which didn’t take any time. I accomplished that in no time and fell in love with painting so much I wanted to do more. I have been a painting fool and have tons of pictures and paintings. I was a self-taught artist and immediately spoke to another blind person who informed me of a contest called Georgia Artists with Disabilities.”

He called representatives of the contest on the last day and emailed three paintings.

“I won an award immediately for my painting called “Cowboys,” after watching an old Western on television. I paused it, took a picture, and what I could see was hats walking through the woods. I painted what I could see, and that’s my first award-winning painting. I won a second award in another contest I entered and received a small cash prize,” he said.

Prior to his newfound hobby for painting, Cocke worked for 25 years as an in-home air conditioning salesman. He retired due to the loss of his sight.

“Hot weather makes a good salesman out of somebody. When it’s cool and nice, nobody is interested. Before I sold air conditioners, I was in the cookie and snack food business about 15 years and had odd jobs before that. I was also a head coach for Special Olympics for seven years and coached Little League ball for 20 plus years. I have been active in sports and love fishing. I taught my children how to hunt but quit hunting because I didn’t have the heart for killing deer.”

Cocke was born in Andalusia and lived here until he was four years old. He ultimately returned to Andalusia around the age of 14-15.

“When I moved to Andalusia for the second time, I started playing tennis and competed in ten plus state doubles tennis championships. My next-door neighbors were Earl and Sam Johnson. I moved back into a neighborhood called Green Acres. There were three fellas in my neighborhood that took me to the tennis courts and taught me how to play tennis. I fell in love with tennis and have played ever since. I played high school football my last year.”

When his father Marcus Wayne Cocke Sr. passed away in 1956 in Andalusia, his mother Nellie Edith Lotz Cocke moved to Waycross, Georgia, to be with her parents.

“My grandparents raised me because my mother was an Army surgical nurse during World War II. When my dad died and left my older brother and me, it became more than she could handle and gave her a nervous breakdown. She went into the VA mental hospital and was in and out until I was about 20 years old. My brother was the power of attorney, but the doctor in North Carolina called me to say our mother was not getting any better or worse and asked about coming to get her. He called me Wayne, but I did not correct him. I called my brother, and we rode up to North Carolina to get her. Since my brother did not want to take care of her, my wife and I took care of her until she passed away in 2015 at age 91. My wife should get the gold star for putting up with her, and they did not like each other.”

He was also on a radio show called “Voices That Inspire” based out of Tallahassee, Florida. Cocke has also written four books entitled “Papa’s Dream,” “Cocke Tales: Memoirs of a Redneck Hippy,” “Margaret B. Long: Jewel of Jacksonville,” and “Wait A Minute Vine,” with musician Dave Griffin.

“It was only a two-minute interview, but I wanted to tell all the older people and retirees don’t procrastinate. If you’re going to do something, do it. The Lord doesn’t promise you another day, so I’ve been painting feverishly. I have written about everything, and if it came to my mind, I wrote it. When I find something I like, I will sketch it out and take a picture of it. I can’t see what I write because everything is so dim, and I use a big black magic marker. I will outline something and try to paint inside it like a coloring book,” Cocke said.

When he called the City of Andalusia to speak to Mayor Earl Johnson, he was asked how long it had been since the two had spoken and responded 68 years.

“When I moved back the second time, I never saw him. His brother Sam was still there, and we struck up a new friendship. He played ball at Southern Miss and became a CEO of a big company and was really successful. We have struck up a new friendship after all these years.”

He is married to his wife of 49 years, Diane Cocke, and they have three grown sons: James Lucas “Luke” Cocke, 44, and twins John Paul Cocke and Jacob Linton Cocke, 40. They are also the grandparents of five grandchildren.

For more information visit James Cocke Art on Facebook.