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Beryl Cook



Beryl Cook was born in 1926 in Surrey, England, one of four sisters. She left school at fourteen, showing little talent for painting and worked in a variety of jobs. Moving to London in 1943 Beryl became a showgirl in a touring production of ‘The Gypsy Princess’. She also worked in the fashion industry, which inspired her life-long interest in the way people dress and how they look.

In 1946 Beryl married her childhood friend John, who was in the Merchant Navy. When he retired from the sea they briefly ran a pub. Their son John was born in 1950, and the following year they left to live in Southern Rhodesia. This move was to prove a turning point for Beryl. One day she picked up some paints belonging to her son and started a picture. She enjoyed it so much she could not stop. She painted on any surface she could find, scraps of wood, fire screens and most notably a breadboard, as can be seen from her famous early painting of Bowling Ladies.

In 1963 the Cooks returned to England to live in Cornwall where Beryl began to paint in earnest. They moved to Plymouth, where in the summer months they ran a busy theatrical boarding house. Beryl loved Plymouth, a thriving, lively seaside town full of pubs, fishermen and sailors and she and John enjoyed going to their local bars and watching flamboyant drag acts. Beryl would concentrate on painting in the winter months, recreating her personal views of Plymouth in vivid oils on wooden panels. Eventually an antique dealer friend persuaded her to let him try and sell a few. To her surprise he sold them very quickly.

Bernard Samuels of the Plymouth Art Centre became aware of this ‘local phenomenon’ and in 1975 he finally convinced her to have an exhibition. It was, of course an enormous success. The show received a great deal of publicity, which resulted in a cover and feature in the Sunday Times Magazine followed by a swift phone call from London’s Portal Gallery. The following year, Beryl Cook had her first London exhibition. It was a sell out and Beryl has exhibited with Portal ever since.

In 1979 a film was made about Beryl for LWT’s South Bank Show. The presenter, Melvyn Bragg, was evidently a fan and they discussed Beryl’s inspiration for her paintings. Beryl admired the work of the English visionary artist Stanley Spencer, his influence is evident in her bold bulky figures and in her compositions. Edward Burra particularly appealed, he too loved to paint sleazy cafes, nightclubs, gay bars, sailors and prostitutes, though unlike Burra there is nothing dark in her world. The appeal of Beryl Cook’s paintings is their directness, exuberance and the instant laughter they create. Her characters are always enjoying themselves to the full. Beryl is the least pretentious of painters and an artist in the same tradition as Breughel, though perhaps via Donald McGill! She was described by Victoria Wood as ‘Rubens with jokes’.

Beryl Cook’s work is particularly interesting when viewed in the context of the tradition of British social realist painting and she could easily be described as a contemporary Hogarth or Gilray, although she has a more sympathetic view of the human race. She is like those painters above all a social observer. She records human frailties and the absurdities of human behaviour with her own unique vision. Beryl’s personality though is in great contrast to her paintings. She is a shy and private person, often depicting the flamboyant and extrovert characters she would love to be. She prefers to observe a crowd of people, her acute eye missing nothing. She records in minute detail scenes of everyday life and has an almost photographic memory.

Beryl has travelled considerably, gleaning new material for her work. The early local scenes have expanded to Buenos Aires, New York, Cuba, Paris and Barcelona. She currently lives and works in Plymouth.

Beryl Cook’s amusing contribution to the Queen’s Golden Jubilee, ‘The Royal Couple’ featured in the Golden Jubilee Exhibition, May 2002, at Art London, Chelsea.

In 1995 Beryl was made an OBE.

Tiger Aspect made two half hour animated films of Beryl Cook’s irrepressible women who meet at Plymouth’s Dolphin Pub. ‘Bosom Pals’, has an all star voice cast, including Alison Steadman, Rosemary Leach and Timothy Spall, with French’s voice as Stella, the pivotal member of the pals. The programmes were broadcast on BBC ONE in 2004 and received great critical acclaim winning several animation awards.

In 2005 Channel Four News  featured a short film of Beryl and her work, the first in over 20 years! Beryl also appeared in 'Art School' on BBC TWO.

BERYL COOK AT 80 ! To celebrate this momentous event Portal Gallery will be holding a comprehensive exhibition of Beryl's work in 2006.

Beryl Cook - Beryl Cook Art - Beryl Cook Prints - Beryl Cook Artist - Beryl Cook Canvases

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