JUNE 2022



After a smaller event last year we are back this year with our regular two weekends of Artists Open Houses. 55 + artists will be exhibiting at 15  houses in and around East Finchley,
Muswell Hill and Finchley Central.
There will be lots of great art and crafts on show to view and buy.

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for up-to-date information on venues and exhibitors.
14 years ago this week saw the death of Beryl Cook – a very British artist who divided opinion

MIKE COLES writes:-

Beryl Cook was apparently a shy and private person – she was even too shy to collect her OBE from the Queen, preferring instead an informal ceremony in her hometown of Plymouth and she never attended her Private Views - and yet her paintings were considered controversial and aroused scorn and were not readily accepted by the art establishment

Adriane Searle, the art critic of The Guardian wrote:

Beryl Cook: a homely, round name for a woman we imagine is also round and jolly and homely. Her art depresses me. I thought I would be able to summon some sort of enthusiasm for its Englishness, its playfulness, its sauciness. But I can't. The best that can be said is that Cook celebrates ordinariness - large women with large appetites, broad-shouldered men, hen parties, booze-ups, dances, dinners, shopping, sunbathing, a bit of slap and tickle. All the girls, and some of the boys, like a sailor. Cook's is an art without any pretentions other than to please. Cook is not considered a serious artist. This is always a risky judgement to make: who knows what is or is not serious, what will or will not be taken seriously one day. We might ask what serious means nowadays; it can mean nothing more than expensive

The critic Brian Sewell, who despite his acerbic turn of phrase, was quite a likeable man wrote:-

“…very successful formula which fools are prepared to buy but doesn’t have the intellectual honesty of an inn sign for the Pig and Whistle. It has a kind of vulgar streak which has nothing to do with art…” 

Beryl Cook responded:-

“…I know there are some artists who look down on my work and when you compare mine with some of the others, I can see what they’re getting at…”  “…I expected to paint like Stanley Spencer.   It was a great disappointment to me when I realised that I didn’t…” 

There are a couple of things going on here. First, Cook was not a ‘formally trained’ artist and therefore was labelled ‘naive’, Secondly her subject matter was everyday scenes, pubs, clubs, restaurants, often with big girls singing, dancing, eating, drinking, flirting and creasing up with laughter, which she sharply observed with economy, precision and humour.
Lets look at ‘formally trained’ first. Naïve art is usually defined as visual art that is created by a person who lacks the formal education and training that a professional artist undergoes (anatomy, art history, technique, perspective, ways of seeing etc.).  
Paintings of this kind tend to have a flat rendering style with simple perspective. One particularly influential painter of "naïve art" was Henri Rousseau (left) 1844–1910, a French Post-Impressionist who was discovered by Pablo Picasso.
Having had many years of ‘formal training’ myself I can confirm that, certainly in my time, all it amounted to was spending all day thinking about and doing ‘art’ with likeminded 
people and producing work that was totally against all the principles of formal art training – but then it was the sixties.

Another British artist tinged with the naïve label was L.S.Lowry, famous for painting scenes of life in the industrial towns of North West England in the mid-20th century. He developed a distinctive style of painting and is best known for his urban landscapes peopled with human figures, often referred to as "matchstick men". Critics labelled him a naïve ‘Sunday Painter’ – not that he gave a toss. He did, however, succeed where Beryl Cook failed in being eventually recognised as a significant British artist becoming an RA and gathering copious doctorates - but refusing an honour from the Queen a record five times.

Apart from her simple graphic painting style Beryl Cook’s subject matter was considered crude, raucous, and patronising - although not so different in many ways from Paris at the turn of the twentieth century which was the canvas for many famous, artists.

So what was in her background that led her to the pubs and clubs of Plymouth?

Beryl Francis Lansley was born in Egham, Surrey, on 10th September 1926. She had four sisters. Her parents, Adrian Lansley and Ella Farmer-Francis separated very early on, and her mother moved to Reading with her daughters. Beryl attended school there, but left education at fourteen and started to work in a variety of jobs. Four years later, towards the end of the Second World War she moved to London. Despite her shyness she tried working as a model and showgirl. In 1948, she married her childhood friend John Cook, who was in the merchant navy. When he retired from the sea, they briefly ran a pub in Suffolk. Their son John was born in 1950. In 1956, the family left to live in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). John Cook worked in the motor trade and she was a bookkeeper.
Towards the end of the fifties Cook was now over thirty and still hadn’t picked up a paintbrush. However, helping her young son with his poster paints she found she enjoyed the experience, prompting husband John to give her a set of oil paints, with which, in 1962, she produced her first real picture, that he christened “The Hangover” (right)

Few today would recognise it as a “Beryl Cook”. It was a half-length, Gauguinesque portrait of an Indian woman, with drooping, lemon-shaped breasts hanging over a shelf in front of her and Cook herself was not so delighted with it that it inspired her to any immediate follow-up, but it did hang in every home they had thereafter.
With unilateral independence and political turmoil looming in Rhodesia the family returned to England in 1965 – initially to Looe in Cornwall but soon to Plymouth – the city she would be most associated with, and that would be her home for the rest of her life.

John continued in the motor trade and she ran a summer guest house they had bought, painting part time. Many of her guests were actors with travelling repertory companies who were appearing at the local theatres.  Once the summer was over, the guesthouse was closed and Beryl was able to concentrate on her paintings.  She would often use wood instead of canvas and would search for ideal pieces she could find, such as lavatory seats, driftwood and wardrobe doors. She painted continuously during the cold winter months and admitted that she was pleased when summer arrived, and she had to put her paint brushes away to concentrate on her paying guests.

 She commented:
“…I had to stop painting for about four months each summer when the visitors were here, and in a way this was quite a relief for by this time there were so many paintings it had become increasingly difficult to store them!…” 

Plymouth was a lively city with a large range of pubs, clubs, brothels, kiss-me-quick dancehalls, illegal gay bars, beaches and more, serving working class holidaymakers, off duty sailors, fishermen and young farmers from the local countryside - all determined to have a good time. The place was awash with countless fascinating individuals, and Beryl and her husband would spend time in the local bars where the entertainment was often glitzy and gaudy, with risqué comedians and drag acts.  Beryl would often surreptitiously sketch the characters frequenting the bars and they would become the leading figures in many of her paintings.

For her, the ideal evening was spent sitting in a bar with John, safely on the fringes of the action, quietly enjoying a drink and a cigarette (until they both gave up smoking), and observing the hen parties, drag artists and the big-bosomed girls selling roses for charity. Shielded by her handbag, she made detailed sketches of them all on little white cards. If she could photograph the backgrounds without drawing attention to herself, she did that, too, but it was the people who interested her.

Once back home with her preliminary sketches, she painted in oil on every available wooden surface — on a fire screen, a mirror frame, even a bread-board, but more usually on the marine wood that John, as a former Merchant Navy man, could get for her.

Beryl achieved an artistic breakthrough in 1975 when an actress who was a regular guest at Beryl’s guesthouse and who loved her paintings, which adorned the walls, mentioned them to Bernard Samuels who ran the Plymouth Arts Centre.  Eventually, after much persuasion, he went to see her paintings for himself.  At this time she had about sixty paintings spread throughout her guest house and Samuels convinced her that she should exhibit them all together in one room at the Arts Centre. The exhibition was held in November and December of 1975 and it proved her key breakthrough.  The number of visitors surpassed all expectations, and the exhibition was extended.
The Lockyer Street Tavern
In 1976 The Sunday Times colour magazine featured one of her works, the Lockyer Street Tavern, with the headline The Paintings of a Seaside Landlady.  The Lockyer Tavern on Lockyer Street, Plymouth was built in 1862, but now no longer exists, having been demolished in the late 1970’s.   It was a favourite haunt of Beryl and her husband and in the painting, we see some of her distinctive characters – the regular pub goers lounging at the bar with their pints of beer and glasses of wine.

There is an effeminate air about some of the characters depicted which probably alluded to a thriving gay community in the city at the time.  During the 1950s, 60s and 70s The Lockyer Tavern became famous for being a safe place for gay men to drink and socialise, particularly in its ‘Back Bar’. Homosexuality in those days was a taboo subject and The Lockyer became so famous for the sexuality of some of its clientele that it became a coded term for discovering a person’s sexuality – by asking ‘do you know the Lockyer’s?  

What Beryl was good at was her power of observation and her attention to detail.  In this painting we see how she has portrayed the clothing, accessories and hairstyles of her characters. 
For many the essence of her work is the “fun factor” and how her sense of humour permeates most of her work.  In this painting our eyes are drawn to the falling man who crutch is thrown upwards as he falls as well as the somewhat effeminate pose of the bespectacled man as he disdainfully looks on.

a 1995 series of Royal Mail stamps featured her work in the illustrious company of pictures by Rodin and Renoir; and in the same year she was appointed OBE for her services to art.
She was still painting every day even in her late seventies. Cook did it for love — not for the £30,000 to £35,000 apiece that her pictures fetched by that time. She and her husband John kept up their appearances at the pub once or twice a week, and she continued to make many of her bouncers, barmen and ballroom dancers look just like him. They were married nearly 60 years. Their son John Jr, survives them.
Beryl Cook, OBE, painter, was born on September 10, 1926. She died on May 28, 2008, aged 81

The comedienne Victoria Wood once described Beryl Cook’s paintings as 'Rubens with jokes'.

Beryl said: 'I'm only motivated to paint by people enjoying themselves. If I saw something sad, I wouldn't dream of painting it.'

In 2007 a group of Cook's fans launched a campaign against the Tate Modern for spending thousands on a conceptual artwork (a can of human excrement) and not buying a single painting by Beryl Cook.

It wasn't the idea of seeing her paintings hanging in major galleries that thrilled the self-effacing Cook - it was the enjoyment they brought to people. As she put it: 'They still cheer people up and I'm awfully pleased about that.'
Sewing the flag back together again by Sasha Korbin 2022
American artist Man Ray's famous 1924 photograph, Le Violon d'Ingres, (left), has sold recently for $12.4M (£9.8M) at a Christie's New York auction dedicated to surrealist art. The sale makes the photo the most expensive ever to be sold at auction.

To create the iconic photo, Man Ray first photographed his then romantic partner, Alice Ernestine Prin, who was also known as Kike de Montparnasse. He then painted the f-holes onto the photographic print and  rephotographed the print. The image takes inspiration from French neoclassical painter Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres' 1808 painting The Valpinçon Bather.

Andy Warhol’s “Shot Sage Blue Marilyn” (right) sold for $195M (£154.5M) in New York in May, making the iconic portrait of Marilyn Monroe the most expensive work by a U.S. artist ever sold at auction.

The 1964 silkscreen image shows Monroe in vibrant close-up — hair yellow, eyeshadow blue and lips red — on a green-blue background. It has become the most expensive piece from the 20th century ever auctioned, according to Christie’s auction house in New York, 


Jubilee celebrations, great and small, are being held all over the country. Computer editing programmes have meant that anyone can have a go at publicising their event. Here are a few.
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