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  Beryl
Cook

ART IS UNPREDICTABLE; ...it pops up like mushrooms in the most unlikely places. Who would have thought that one of Britain's best artists would emerge, untrained, from a boarding house in Plymouth? For Beryl's are such wonderful mushrooms! Beryl Cook's first painting was done in reaction to her young son's efforts. With a box of paints she'd bought him for Christmas, he painted a picture with a sky at the top and a house and some grass at the bottom. 'But there's nothing in the middle,' she told him. 'There is nothing in the middle,' he replied. 'I'll show you how to paint something in the middle!' she said, and she painted a lady with large, pendulous breasts and eyes looking directly right. She was so surprised by what she'd done, she told me, that she felt as though she'd been punched in the stomach. She didn't paint again for a couple of years. Then there was no stopping her. 'Why do you go on?' I asked her. 'Because,' she said, 'I'm always disappointed by the result. The picture's always so bright in my mind and I have such high hopes for it before I start, but when I've done it I can't look at it for a while. Then I see something else - have another idea - and so it goes on.'

She admitted that when she looks back at her work she's surprised and not displeased by what she's done, but it's always her hope for the next that drives her on. There are two quite different ways of seeing. You can let your eyes relax and your gaze expand so that you don't look at anything in particular but take in the whole view: Turner and the Impressionists saw like this. This is a polite way of looking. Or you can stare hard at something, making it appear real and solid, as Beryl does. This is a rude way of looking. Children are quickly taught that it's wrong to stare, but many artists remain children all their lives and don't stop staring. L.S.Lowry stared not only at people but at animals too. One of his friends had a dog that used to take on Lowry's gaze. They would stare at each other until either the dog barked or Lowry laughed. The animals and the people in Lowry's pictures, like those in Beryl Cook's, are always looking at something.

Donald McGill, the superb artist of saucy postcards, didn't just stare but pointed at all the funny people on the beach. He got away with it in the strict Edwardian age, because the seaside then came under the sway of the Lords and Ladies of Misrule. Their rude jokes were allowed in the music halls at the end of the pier. Beryl Cook emerged naturally from this rich seam of British visual humour. She discovered it within her as she observed it around her, with increasing warmth, love and laughter. And so do we. Who else could have imagined such an incongruous and wondrous owner in 'Rusty Car'? Who could have balanced the Orange Maid lolly in the young girl's mouth with the arum lilies that refused not to come up, in 'Garden Centre'? And who would have realized that the lorry's big hubs in 'Wheels' needed the companionship of the bicycle's delicate spokes, despite the obvious difference in size?


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