Cook was a self-taught artist who was given a child’s paint box for her 40th birthday and embarked upon a career painting 'ordinary people enjoying themselves'. Her early efforts failed to satisfy her. 'I expected to paint like Stanley Spencer. It was a great disappointment to me when I realised that I didn’t.'
The Art Establishment never thought much of her output either. 'I know there are some artists who look down on my work,' Cook said, 'and when you compare mine with some of the others, I can see what they’re getting at.'
Wandering around the gallery, I found myself wondering whether Robert Lenkiewicz, a fellow Plymouth artist whose work was exhibited in the RWA a couple of months ago, and Cook knew each other. They were contemporaries, both figurative painters, both deeply unfashionable in artistic circles, but popular with the public. Their work also shares a distinct sense of humour, although Lenkiewicz's is far more profound.
And yet I liked Beryl Cook's best paintings. For all that they lack subtlety and nuance, they achieve the artist's aim of making people feel more cheery for looking at them. I even found myself coveting 'Dancing Couple' with its stylised symmetry (which definitely reminded me of Stanley Spencer) and 'In the Snug' which was painted in the historic Bristol harbourside pub, the Nova Scotia. And following a post-exhibition mug of tea and shared slice of coffee and walnut cake, even this wash-out of a summer Sunday didn't seem quite as dreary.