Beryl Cook 10 September 1926 – 28 May 2008
‘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 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.
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.
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.