People watching is one of the most entertaining things anyone can do. The people that populate the world around us come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and personalities. When I’m in airports I watch people pass and create identities for them. I decide their profession, their name, where they’re headed, and what for. Its really better than television.
English painter Beryl Cook (1926 – 2008) found the same humor in everyday life. Her paintings are her own comical interpretations of passersby and the lives they live. She often portrays her subjects as overweight individuals with specific emphasis on the T&A. When asked why she simply replied “because the bigger they are the less background there is to fill in.”
Beryl never considered herself a talented painter. Her true love was fashion and the way people look. Her road to art began as a show girl in a touring show of ‘the Gypsy Princess.’
“When I was younger I steeled myself to do so many things I really didn’t want to do. Now I realize I do not have to do anything. Consequently I lead a very happy life.”
The show eventually took Beryl out of London. While on the road she ran into a childhood friend and the two soon married. Four years into into their marital bliss the couple had a son, John. The birth of her son was a pivotal point in Beryl’s life in more ways than one. Outside of being a new mommy, Beryl found her niche while playing with her little one. One day she and her son were enjoying arts and crafts, painting pictures to be specific. Oddly the not so artsy Beryl couldn’t get enough of painting. She was so excited by the experience that she never put the paintbrush down. She began painting on any and everything she could find: wood, mirror frames, bread boards.
Most of Beryl’s depictions are of people she observes in the warmer months of the year. She stored memories from her outings and sat down to paint them during the boring winter days. A place she frequented for inspiration was the pub for drag shows. She lived vicariously through the entertainers. Their flamboyant personalities and over-the-top costumes were total opposite of the shy and conservative Beryl. One thing is for certain, Beryl had one hell of a photographic memory to document scenes from months ago in such detail.
The humorous and exaggerated oil painting caught the eye of a friend of Beryl’s. He was an antique dealer who thought Beryl could make some money off her hobby. After all, who doesn’t want to laugh? Beryl eventually gave into her persistent pal and let him place a few of her painting for sale in his shop. Much to her surprise, the paintings sold quickly.
You know word of a good thing spreads fast. The whisper of the lady with the funny paintings made it to the ears of Bernard Samuels, an employee of the Plymouth Art Center. In 1975 he convinced the local star to hold an exhibition. The show made the cover of Sunday Times and led to another exhibition in London at the Portal Gallery a year later.
In 1995, Beryl was appointed as an Officer of the Order of the British Empire. Royal status! She never though goofing off in her son’s watercolors would earn her international recognition and an official government appointed title. All in all, “the woman who paints fat ladies” made quite a small fortune off her paintings. At her time of death in 2008 there was a waiting list for her paintings. They were selling for £20,000 a pop and celebrities like Whoopi Goldberg had no problem patiently waiting for their own Beryl Cook original.
Image Layout: Phaymiss
- Art HERstory: Jay DeFeo
- Mr. Brainwash presents LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL- Los Angeles
- Art HERstory: Sandra Blow
- Art HERstory: Elaine de Kooning
- Art HERstory: Rolinda Sharples