Page last updated at 18:04 GMT, Wednesday, 28 May 2008 19:04 UK

Artist inspired by pub's regulars

By Jonathan Morris
BBC News Plymouth

Dolphin pub
Paintings by the Dolphin's patron Beryl Cook line the pub walls

The Dolphin in Plymouth is one of those pubs where time has stood still since the 1970s.

Standing dockside at The Barbican, it is inside the pub that artist Beryl Cook, who died on Wednesday, sketched some of her best-known work.

The biggest give away are the paintings on the wall by Cook herself.

Their larger-than-life characters, one showing a group of buxom women arriving in the pub on a hen night, are what she will be most remembered for.

Bernard Samuels who first exhibited Cook's work in 1975, sits in the same seat where the artist did many of her preliminary sketches.

"She used to have a little pad which she held under the table," he said.

"Sometimes I didn't even know she was sketching and I was opposite her at the same table."

Bernard Samuels
She was observing life in general
Bernard Samuels

But it was Cook's ability to blend into the background that enabled her to capture people acting naturally.

"She was observing life in general and ordinary folk," said Mr Samuels.

"She never liked formal occasions or posh pubs and the Dolphin suited her perfectly.

"But if there was anything unusual she could not resist it."

At a local gallery, Cook's paintings of male strippers, women in corsets and riotous hen nights mingle with pictures of Tinside Lido, Elvira's cafe and a Plymouth Albion rugby match.

What unifies them all is they show life in Plymouth where she came to live with her husband John in 1970.

Cook herself was never happier than when she was down her local.

She once said: "I like painting people enjoying themselves and there's no better place to do that than the pub."

Cook painting
Cook was inspired by pub locals

Mr Samuels said: "She was very wary of having an exhibition at first. I had to work very hard to get it, but she gave in in the end."

That led to a feature in a national newspaper and since then Cook has amazed and confused critics in equal measure.

Some said her work was shallow and despite efforts by friends, her work was never accepted by Tate Britain.

Mr Samuels said: "It's their loss. The art world cannot handle humour very well.

"Her paintings were about people. She had a certain way of looking at the British.

"It's very rare for someone to put into paint that kind of observation and to articulate what people are like."

One Dolphin regular Richard Taylor has his doubts.

"They're all of fat people, " he said.

"It's a bit like Benny Hill, just not my cup of tea."

But shopper Julie Carman, who was sifting through Cook paintings at a local gallery, said: "Her paintings just make me laugh and capturing that humour is a real skill.

"She captured the spirit of what she was painting."

Painter Beryl Cook dies aged 81
28 May 08 |  Entertainment
In pictures: Beryl Cook exhibition
26 Sep 06 |  In Pictures
Beryl bursts into TV
28 Aug 99 |  Entertainment


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