With the ‘Our Beryl’ exhibition currently on display at the Council House and receiving brilliant feedback from everyone who visits it, we just had to feature Beryl Cook OBE (1926-2008) as this month’s History Hero!
Born Beryl Frances Lansley in Egham, Surrey in 1926, she would go on to produce an array of artworks full of larger than life characters that ‘ranged from stout lady bowlers goosing each other to middle-aged men in bikinis being serviced by Miss Whiplash.’ Many of her paintings feature scenes and locations from Plymouth.
Her work is instantly recognisable and highlights the fascination she had with people. Throughout her career she made no apology for the playfulness of her work: “What excites me is the joy, the animation, the pleasure in life,” she once told the Guardian.
“Beryl took great interest in people and loved to see them performing and enjoying themselves,” says her son John Cook. “From nightlife of all varieties, to the more innocent pursuits of line dancing and sunbathing, a diverse spectrum of human activity can be found in her paintings.”
Despite her strong sense of fun and popularity, Beryl was quite reserved and actually found fame hard to deal with: “She loved to imagine herself as an extrovert though,” says John. “She often painted herself in various guises such as on a motorbike, in a shiny corset, as a cheerleader or even dancing the tango.”
Our exhibition has been co-curated with Beryl’s family and they have a fantastic website where you can find out even more about her.
Visit the Arty Facts page to see a timeline which highlights key moments in her life – including her marriage to John Cook in 1948, her first exhibition at Plymouth Arts Centre in 1975 and receiving her OBE in 1995. Her ‘Girls on the Town’ painting was featured on a 1st class postage stamp the same year!
You can also read a great personal account written by her son John. His biography covers her early life, marriage, time in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), return to the UK, move to Plymouth in 1968 and artistic career.
Happy reading and don’t forget, the ‘Our Beryl: Beryl Cook at Home’ exhibition runs until the end of Saturday 9 September and is free to visit. Find out more about it here.