Tony Cooke: a talent to inspire
PUBLISHED: 10:05 23 December 2010 | UPDATED: 18:20 20 February 2013
Tony Cooke, who died in 2006, was an inspiration to generations of students as a lecturer at Worthing's art college. His work is now on show at a major retrospective exhibition at the town's art gallery.
Tony Cooke was born in London but moved to Sussex as a child. He attended Worthing Art College and soon started to develop his own style of painting in muted colours and fine brushwork, gaining inspiration from the beach and harbour at Shoreham-by-Sea.
In the 1950s he was awarded a scholarship to the Royal Academy Schools, where he studied under Carel Weight and Ruskin Spear. His work was chosen by Jack Beddington for his 1957 volume entitled Young Artists of Promise. During this time he started exhibiting at the Trafford Gallery, London and the Royal Academy.
Tony retained his strong local connections in Shoreham and during the 1960s lived on a Thames barge on the River Adur with his family, combining teaching at Worthing Art College with his oil and watercolour painting.
His first wife Christine said: He supplemented painting by teaching, it was that way round. He was first and foremost a painter. Several former students have written in the visitors book at the exhibition to say they remember Tony and what an inspiration he was. They remember his striding around, talking 19 to the dozen.
In an article he wrote Tony said: I well remember my feelings when I took my first life class as an instructor wondering how I could be any use to anyone else who was trying to draw. Yet after half an hour of watching these people struggle with the pose I had set up it suddenly occurred to me how static they all were. The amount of time they spent looking at the model compared to their own drawing was one-to-nine in favour of their own drawing and I knew what I had to tell them.
They were mainly putting down on paper what they thought they knew rather than what they had discovered for themselves. There was one thing I had to do and that was to make these people look with a seeing eye.
Tony also produced pen and ink drawings for the West Sussex Gazette and wrote and illustrated articles for The Artist magazine. During the summer he would sometimes visit France and paint the Brittany coastline.
Christine believes that his style may have come from his colour blindness. Thats why he painted mostly in blues and greens, he felt very uncomfortable painting in red. His paintings are all in very muted tones.
She remembers their time on the houseboat fondly and bringing up four children, Anna, Richard, Justine and Christopher, afloat. The last two were born while the Cookes lived on the houseboat.
We were living in a lovely ground floor flat in Carlisle Road, Brighton. Tony had a studio in the front room and then one day he came home and he said to me Ive seen a friend of mine and he says theres a houseboat for sale. Its an old sailing barge called the Primrose.
It sounds very Sixties stuff, doesnt it? We went over to see it and there was this gleaming white yacht and as I was stepping over a black barge towards the yacht, Tony said no this is it, this is Primrose.
Primrose was 86ft long by 16ft wide. There was a big main saloon, each of the children had their own bedroom and the Cookes had a cabin. She had a galley kitchen and a bathroom complete with bath. She had a washing machine, a Rayburn, a telephone, television, all mod cons for the Sixties. At the beginning, Tony painted in the main saloon and for the last three or four years he had his studio in a deck house on top of the boat. Originally, in 1963, they lived in the barge at Littlehampton with Anna, nearly three, and Richard who was two months old and their cat. They had been there two weeks when Tony had a telegram telling him he had got a job at Worthing Art College.
In 1964 they moved to Shoreham and their home was towed to the harbour. Tony said of his time on the boat: The people on the beach were very different animals to those in the town. I kept my sanity in Shoreham. Its a lovely wild area, the only bit of unspoilt land on the whole of the South coast. The light is excellent, sea kale and wild plants grow there and birds nest there. We used to eat sea kale. It was good but very salty.
The Cookes stayed on the Primrose until 1972 when they moved to Ravens Road, Shoreham, to get more space. They bought a camper van with money from the boat and Tony started doing paintings of Brittany.
Christine and Tony parted in 1982. She now lives in Steyning. Tony remarried and lived in Worthing. Later he spent his final years with his partner Jean Beswick in Eastbourne where he did many paintings of Eastbourne and Hastings.
During the 1980s Tony travelled abroad exhibiting in galleries in Holland and South Africa. In 1993 he won an award in the Singer & Friedlander Sunday Times watercolour competition. In 1996 he was invited to be Artist in Residence at Henley-on-Thames.
His work is represented in Batley, Leicester, Nottingham, Preston and Worthing art galleries and the Ministry of Works. Paintings have also been purchased by private collectors in the UK, Eire, Denmark, France, Holland, Italy, USA and South Africa.
Throughout his life Tony maintained a strong love of the sea and fishing boats which is reflected in the fine watercolours he painted in the last years of his life.
SEE THE EXHIBITION
Anthony Cooke Retrospective Exhibition
Until 29 Jan at Worthing Art Gallery, Chapel Road, Worthing
Tuesday to Saturdays 10am to 5pm.
Sat nav: BN11 1HP