BERYL COOK OBE — British artist Beryl Cook says that fat people seem to have more fun. "They fill up the page so I don't have to do a background". Beryl Cook has become one of the most popular and best loved of British artists. The colour. wit. vulgarity and sheer fun of her subjects have caught the imaginations of Britons and Americans alike. and on both sides of the Atlantic there are avid collectors awaiting new work.
She was born in 1926 in Surrey. England. one of four sisters. She left school. where she had shown little talent for painting. at the age of fourteen. and worked at a variety of jobs. moving to London in 1943.
She left London in 1946 and married John. a childhood friend who was in the merchant Navy. The Cooks eventually 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 a myriad of interesting characters. she and John enjoyed going to their local pubs and watching flamboyant drag acts.
Cook would concentrate on painting in the winter months. and was eventually persuaded by an antique dealer friend to let him try to sell a few of her paintings. To her surprise he sold them very quickly. They were painted on wood panels in oil. a medium she still uses today. Plymouth Art Centre came to hear about this local phenomenon and persuaded Beryl. with some difficulty. to have an exhibition.
Her exhibition in Plymouth was enormously successful. Her paintings so full of life and humour and thoroughly unpretentious were immediately appealing to people - they made them laugh. The show received a great deal of publicity. which resulted in an article in the Sunday Times Supplement. with one of her paintings of a barmaid on the cover. Soon after this. London's Portal Gallery offered her an exhibition. they had specialised for many years in the work of British self-taught 'primitive'/'naive' painters and Beryl Cook fitted exactly into this school. So in 1976 Beryl Cook had her first London exhibition. it was a sell-out. Since then she has had numerous exhibitions and her paintings now command upwards of £10.000. she has. much to her surprise and sometimes dismay. become an artist with an international reputation.
This popular acclaim has been accompanied by serious critical appreciation. most notably with the inclusion of her painting in the fifth Peter Moores exhibition at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool where she was seen in the context of mainstream contemporary art. The new Glasgow Museum of Modern Art has also recently purchased some of her original work. ensuring her a place in the annuls of British Art.
She is a person who is full of the contradictions of her paintings: they are lively. flamboyant and thoroughly extrovert. she is shy. reticent. and amazed by her own popularity. She prefers to quietly observe a crowd of people. her acute eye misses nothing. she records in minute detail scenes of everyday life. she has an almost photographic memory. "I don't know how my pictures happen. they just do. They exist. but for the life of me I can't explain them".
Beryl Cook's work is particularly interesting when viewed in the context of other British social realist painters. She is. like them. above all else a social observer. she records with an acute eye the human frailties and absurdities of human behaviour.
The appeal of Beryl Cook's paintings is their directness. vulgarity and boisterousness. She is not a pretentious theory-ridden artist; her paintings are accessible and fun. not to be interpreted by esoteric art criticism. Her paintings are true folk art in the same tradition as Brueghel. Stanley Spencer and the South American Artist Botero.
"Human nature is immensely interesting to me and I accept it all. just as it is. I hope my pictures convey some of the pleasure. fury. amazement and delight I feel in the activities going on around me." — Beryl Cook