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Beryl Cook OBE died on Wednesday.
Beryl Cook was known for the outgoing, rumbustious women she painted, but she, although warm-hearted and blessed with an engaging sense of humour (especially at her own expense), was intensely private. She could not be prevailed upon to attend her own private views or even to receive her insignia in person when appointed OBE in 1995. Attracted to the bright lights so long as they did not shine on her, she preferred to sit on the periphery of the action with her husband and a drink, looking on in shy appreciation as any of life’s extroverts who felt like doing so provocatively twanged bra straps or nonchalantly juggled with wine bottles.
Her paintings are accessible, fun, exuberant and thoroughly unpretentious. But, contrary to popular belief, not all her characters are singing, clapping or throwing their heads back in glee. What caused so many to identify with her paintings was partly, it is true, the vicarious pleasure of seeing big girls singing, dancing, eating, drinking, flirting and creasing up with laughter, but also the artist’s knack of capturing with economy, precision and humour, a huge range of quieter characteristics.
Cook was the mistress of evanescent facial expressions and body language — the furtive glance, the hint of competitiveness, the deep concentration, the studied indifference and the momentary indecision — just as much as she was mistress of the rounded limb, the heavy eyeshadow, the fat fingers, the stubby cigarette and the strangely opaque wine glass.
Cook did not enjoy talking about her paintings, and in any case their simplicity and lack of pretension defied dissection by experts — not that this prevented the art critic Brian Sewell from dismissing them, although Cook, an experienced judge of the performing arts, endearingly forgave him because he was, she said, so entertaining.
Others have been hugely more enthusiastic. Beryl Cook pictures hang in the Glasgow Museum of Modern Art and in the Plymouth and Bristol City Art Galleries; the Portal Gallery has staged a further 18 solo exhibitions of her work, roughly one every two years, its permanent window display of her prints prompting many passers-by to stop and laugh out loud;
Still painting every day even in her late seventies, Cook did it for love — not for the £30,000 to £35,000 apiece that her pictures fetched by that time. She and her husband kept up their appearances at the Dolphin once or twice a week, and she continued to make many of her bouncers, barmen and ballroom dancers look just like her husband of nearly 60 years.
Beryl Cook, OBE, painter, was born on September 10, 1926. She died on May 28, 2008, aged 81
She painted people like me, and my friends.
Clockwise, The Accordionist, Grandma and mouse, Ladies who Lunch (aka the NER London division AGM) Dinner for One.
I should point out however that neither Mary nor I smoke, and even if we did we would not smoke at the meal table. However I did once have a pair of pink high heels and still occasionally use a pink handbag.