If I had to use a word to define Barrie Cook this would be “experimenter”; having manipulated form and colour in his paintings for over 60 years, Cook has earned a unique place in the history of British art as one of its most renowned exponents. Intending to “break the habit of brushstroke mentality”, since the mid-60s he has developed a unique technique combining vivid pigments in juxtaposition with dynamic forms. Characterised by the overlapping of several layers of spray painting – sometimes as many as 30-40 layers – resulting in a distinctive “blur effect”, Cook’s work lies somewhere between truth and illusion – where the “unseen” becomes visible to the eye of the beholder. The considerable size of the canvases amplifies the tension between the visible and the invisible by making the horizontal/vertical bar-line format of the paintings envelope the viewer’s field of vision.
Featuring a wisely selected assortment of paintings spanning from the 60s to the present time, Courting Colour is Cook’s current exhibition. Curated by Sandra Higgins and hosted at Newman Street Gallery, the show provides an unmissable opportunity to appreciate to what extant Cook has pushed the binomial colour/form beyond all conventional boundaries. Among the works on display are Painting I (1965) and Untitled I (1976), both dating back to Cook’s most “sombre” period. Family Bonding II (2003) featured in the show along with Altarpiece (1992) – described by Paul Moorhouse as exhibiting “light filled with optimism” – and Lizard Spirits (1993) – named after the location of Cook’s studio – reflect a newfound “brightness” and a greater “serenity of composition”.
Born in 1929 in Birmingham, Barrie Cook graduated at Birmingham College of Art in 1954. A teacher in secondary schools between 1954-61, he later on became Head of Fine Art department at Stourbridge College of Art, a Senior Fellow in Fine Art, Painting at Cardiff College of Art in 1974 and Head of Fine Art at Birmingham Polytechnic in 1979. An artist in residence at Fishguard Art Festival (1984) and at National Museum & Art Gallery, Wales (1987-88), in 1992 Barrie Cook moved from Cardiff to Cornwall; this move is widely considered responsible for the “lightness of spirit” characterising his most recent woks.
Among Cook’s most recent group and personal exhibitions are:Lemon Street Gallery, Truro, Cornwall (2007/09/11); This Could Happen to You, Ikon Gallery, Birmingham (2010); The Edge, Falmouth Art Gallery (2010); Print Show, Newport Museum and Art Gallery, Wales (2009); A Cornish Perspective; Newlyn Art Society, Bristol City Art and Museum (2009); New Acquisition, Birmingham City Art Gallery and Museum (2008); Cornish Show, Hiltonyoung Gallery, Penzance (2008); 10th Anniversary Exhibition, Lemon Street Gallery, Truro, Cornwall (2008); Unquiet Earth, St Ives Society of Artists, Norway Square, St Ives Royal Corwall Museum, Truro, Philbrick Gallery for Fine Arts, Museum Collection (2007).
Explaining his work, Cook says: “Painting is a way of thinking. Each picture requires its own special logic. I use paintings to hint at, or make manifest the unseen and the intangible. I see them as an aid to contemplation and meditation”; I can’t think of better words to describe the art of Barrie Cook.
Barrie Cook – Courting Colour will be on display until August 4th at Newman Street Gallery, 18 Newman Street, W1T 1PE London.
All images courtesy of Aristotle Liu.
Words by Jacopo Nuvolari.