Thursday, 11 December 2014

Bums, Boobs, Buxom Barmaids and Beryl

What can you do with a girl like Beryl? She had more beans than Heinz. Her art is instantly recognisable, unmistakeably hers and no one else's. It fizzes with life, with an often overlooked working class Englishness that flash captures a life as seen from the shop floor or the public house. It is the stuff of knees-ups and dance halls, of beer bottles and ale, cigarette smoke and lewd behaviour. Smutty words exchanged in sudden clenches, a hand landing where no hand should go. Laughter as loud as the clocking-off, home going signal from the factory. Of Mable's and Maud's and Henry's and Wilfred's. It is art that expresses a common outlook.
Artists like Beryl, much like Jack Vettriano, are dismissed by the intelligentsia whose perception of such work is that it is frivolous, comedic and therefore unworthy. Rubbish. Humour has muscle. It has that ability with its comic touch to reveal more of real life than many other, more seriously intentioned types. It is similar in many respects to the way pop music is dismissed as being lightweight or less valid in some quarters. Beryl was forever pink and never punk but her roots, her art is the thing of the mandolin, of hearty songs sung in the snug - she is a folk painter.

If laughter can't be canned then it can be framed and who better than Beryl Cook to take up that task?

 It is very easy from a small minded perspective to dismiss these works of art as trivial. Yes, they have a comedic quality but nonetheless remain serious if only by virtue of the fact that being funny is a serious business.

The expressive faces that switch from lusty to pensive to sudden, unexpected amused shock, as the image below shows, is a talent unto itself. Such simple uses of eyes with smirks that conveyed thought so effortlessly.

It is the faces though that grant connection to the audience. Their expressions, so like our own or those we have encountered in life bring us closer to the art, enabling us to readily identify with situations even if they are not ones we have ourselves experienced.

The tea rooms and cafés and public houses where the bustle of crinoline encounters the stained table laid with a plate of fish and chips. Two women dressed in Sunday best sit facing each other, the one applying lip stick the other tipping a beer bottle back and glugging from it, a cigarette wedged between index and middle finger. Not standard behaviour and yet odd enough to make you recall incidents when you too have seen or met outlandish or slightly different refinements, if such they be, to those used in your own society. Funny for sure, incongruous for certain. 

These 'snapshots' of life, candid and refreshing, relate one being lived to the full. It may not be but then might just so, the one we know ourselves but still we recognise it all the same. This is because we all understand our similarities as much as we appreciate our differences for these two are what colour to our existences.

Beryl Cook had that unique eye for spotting the reality of a situation and capturing it. Not really that different from Goya and Rembrandt or indeed Edward Burra. The only real difference I can see between Beryl's work and theirs is she saw the joke of it all.

Beryl was born in Egham in 1926. She died in Plymouth in 2008. In between this time, and for far too brief a period in my opinion, she painted some of the very best art ever seen. I wish more artists would follow in her funny bone footsteps. She did make me laugh...
Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.

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A Utility Fish Shed Blog

A Utility Fish Shed Blog