Wohl Central Hall
Jean Cooke RA, Jamais je ne pleure et jamais je ne ris, c.1972. Oil on canvas. This room presents a memorial tribute to the painter Jean Cooke, who died last August aged 81. Having focused on pottery and sculpture in her youth, Cooke studied painting at the Royal College of Art. Married to the painter John Bratby and bringing up their four children, she painted prolifically and with intensity, mostly landscapes and still lifes. She became an Associate of the Royal Academy in 1965 and a full member in 1972. By then Cooke’s marriage was deteriorating and she divorced Bratby five years later.
But this small, indomitable woman developed an increasingly free approach to her work, painting outdoors in her ever wilder garden in London’s Blackheath. She also returned incessantly to the Sussex countryside near Birling Gap, discovering a pared-down style that gave her work its fundamental sense of direct engagement with the thing seen.
Elsewhere in the gallery,which has been arranged by Ann Christopher and Gus Cummins, Damien Hirst’s gleaming silver statue of St Bartholomew exposes the full anatomical complexity of the figure’s muscular structure. Hirst’s statue contrasts dramatically with Ralph Brown’s dark, bulky and mysterious sculpture Seated Queen. On the wall is David Mach’s enormous picture Looker, made from thousands of postcards collaged together to produce the sultry face of a young girl staring out from the shadows.
Elsewhere, John Bellany displays a large, melancholy painting of fisher-folk in a boat called ‘Bethel’. They seem unaware of the giant crucified fish hanging over them grinning like demented phantoms.