Jenny Cook studied as a painter at the Harris Art School in her home town of Preston, and then trained as a teacher in Leicester in 1966. After a successful career as an independent artist working on glass sheets and wooden panels, her work underwent a transformation when she discovered the power of altering her wooden support by carving into it with a fretsaw.
Jenny Cook at work in her studio
I was introduced to painting on flat glass when I spent three months in Murano with my glass maker husband John Cook. We set up home in Leicestershire and I began working as a freelance artist on glass and acrylic sheet and later, flat wooden panels.
I took part in many exhibitions throughout the country and in ’76 & ’78 had two successful one-woman shows in London’s Mercury Gallery (who ditched me when I changed my work!). Then I exhibited 120 paintings at New Walk Museum & Art Gallery in 1982, eighty of which were borrowed from various public and private collections, the rest were painted new for the show. In 1997 I had a one–woman show at the excellent City Gallery in Granby Street…..so you see Leicester has been very hospitable to this Lancashire lass, for which I am truly grateful.
Jenny Cook, Return to Albufeira, Portugal, carved & painted wood, private collection
I was painting on flat wood panels, hardboard and sometimes rough wood or sections of Japanese pallets. I like the hard surface, and prefer it to canvas. I discovered the joy of working with wood at the Coach House, Community Craft Centre in Gotham Street, which has now been created into a glorious studio, gallery and home by Sarah Kirby. I had just gone to the centre to repair a little cupboard, but seeing the lathes and band-saws, I immediately began wondering how I could combine my painting with wood-working?...and that was it!
Jenny Cook, Zinnias, carved & painted wood
Jenny Cook, Five Anemones, carved & painted wood
It was exciting and a huge challenge learning techniques such as fret working, hand carving, constructing and inventing and lots of other new skills.
It was also a joy to find that many of my loyal collectors were very supportive and interested to follow me through the different stages of my development.
My main themes have always been gardens, flowers and buildings. I had to work out how I could interpret these successfully in wood, whilst avoiding chocolate-boxiness! I was already a competent woodworker. I learnt about flat panel construction and intricate carving techniques and from John Hayto, teaching at the Community Centre, I learnt about being sensitive to the natural lines in the wood. I chose my wood carefully. Where there is a knot or grain or it can be intruiging to work out how to use it in my painting. For instance in 'Five Anemones' the stems curve gently around the knot in the wood. I usually use lime-wood for detailed work that will have a lot of work with the fretsaw.
David Roberts (1796 - 1864), View of Jersusalem from the Mount of Olives, 1855, Collection: Leicester Arts & Museums Service
The LSA’s annual project in 2000 was to create work inspired by exhibits in the Victorian Gallery in New Walk. An oil painting “Jerusalem From The Mount of Olives” by David Roberts inspired me and also aroused in me a new passion for buildings emerging from rocky landscapes.
Jenny Cook, Jerusalem, carved & painted wood, private collection
Jenny Cook, Vernazza to Monterosso, carved & painted wood
Working on the Jerusalem piece led to a passion for the exciting 16th – 17th century cities of the Maltese islands from where several carvings ensued, mainly using rough re-cycled wood. Several of a citadel series are now owned by Leicestershire County Council Artworks Collection.
Jenny Cook, Hoopoe, carved & painted wood
I never imagined Malta & Gozo would hold such wonderful architectural treasures for me. But as a member of Birdlife Malta & the RSPB, I loathe the widespread, hideous slaughter & trapping of birds that is so rife there.
Jenny Cook, Stoneywell, 1898, carved & painted wood
Near at home, the wonderful buildings in and around Leicester are places I love to paint.
My day starts with a swim which gets me out of bed, then I return home to my lovely workshop to carve, or to work in my garden, another great source of inspiration - at least, that has been a typical day until I suffered a slipped disc four months ago, which brought me to the most challenging time of my 50 years of working life so far.
A forthcoming operation must lead me to the next stage of my privileged creative life doing what I love, painting and working in my workshop and garden.
Go to the Jenny Cook page here