Richard Cook is a painter who, having trained at St Martin's School of Art and the Royal College of Art, has been exhibiting for over 40 years. He has work in the Tate Collection, The British Museum and Arts Council Collections and has exhibited at The Royal Academy, the Hayward Gallery and the Tate St Ives, to name but a few. Here, Richard – who paints primarily with his hands (no brushes) – tells us a little about his workspace in Newlyn, Cornwall.
My studio is an integral part of my house in Newlyn. I’ve been here for 30 years. People who visit are struck by the paint on the floors and walls. It’s on two levels and an odd shape; square with a piece cut out of it. It has a skylight, a window with a blanket over it and a larger window overlooking the sea, covered by a painting of moorland. The studio is hermetic, sealed off from too much bright light. It’s a place of work and solitude and, in a way, dreaming. When I work I turn off the phones.
I bring to the studio the drawings I do in nature – West Penwith in Cornwall, Dartmoor and the Black Mountains. The other morning I stepped over a stile into a field and did a drawing in seconds. I brought it back to the studio and that energy became the painting.
My paintings and my studio have a direct relationship with each other. The studio is like an animal’s lair under the roots of a tree – mossy, bits of earth crumbling down and light streaming through the canopy above. The paintings emerge from this half-light.
I’m in the studio every day, but not all day. I go in, I come out. When I was younger I worked all God’s hours but now my painting has its own momentum. It’s like a river that changes in depth, speed, flow and shape.
If a painting is any good it comes out of the studio. The soul of the work that remains contains the soul of the work that I have destroyed.
The muted colours I use are not intentional, they occur. Colour is a song and is one’s own. It changes of it’s own volition, but it is rooted. If you try to control it, to trap or shape it, it dies. That knowledge has taken half a lifetime to trust.
I need silence when I work, my own voice, in the studio, must be dominant – no music, for example. I need to feel lost to the world and not vulnerable, in a physical sense at least.
Soon I am moving into a new studio next door. It’s huge and full of light. When it was offered to me by the Smart Borlase Trust my first reaction was to say no, but that changed to seeing it as a gift and I said yes. In a year or so it might start to look more like this one, but a bit less Spartan, with perhaps a Persian rug and some paintings hanging up, making it easier to show to people who visit. I’m getting used to the idea that I’ve been unearthed.