Exhibition: Beryl Cook and Tom of Finland – Studio Voltaire, London

Exhibition Beryl Cook and Tom of Finland - Studio Voltaire, London
Tim Firmager
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From May to August 2024, Studio Voltaire in London hosts a new exhibition of fleshy excesses bringing together the work of two cultural icons: Beryl Cook and Tom of Finland.

The Beryl Cook / Tom of Finland exhibition will provide a significant refocus and reveal interconnected ideas surrounding gender, sexuality, taste and class. Both artists have a distinct and coherent way of hyper-realising the body in images that fundamentally celebrate pleasure and deny shame. Tom of Finland’s drawings of gay men proudly revelling in their sexuality both redefined and deconstructed conventions of masculinity. Cook’s paintings are often deliciously camp but derive from keenly observed social interactions. The women in her works are not caricatured but rather command the space of the painting in complex, vivid and entirely believable portraits.

The exhibition will include a rich archive of materials, many of which have never been seen by the public, including fan mail, preparatory sketches, source photography, and early publications and merchandise that illuminate their working processes. Many of Cook’s original paintings entered private collections, but there are now limited records remaining of their whereabouts. Studio Voltaire is keen to hear from anyone who has an original painting and is interested in loaning work for the exhibition, particularly Cook’s inimitable depictions of women—confident, defiant and joyous.

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The exhibition will run 15 May to 25 August 2024.

Both artists received their first solo exhibitions in the 1970s; however, their audiences more frequently encountered their work outside of gallery and museum systems. The artists directly engaged with their audiences, gaining dedicated and enduring followings and subsequently impacting a wider popular culture.

About Beryl Cook

Beryl Cook (b. 1926–d. 2008) was a painter renowned for her exuberant style and depictions of everyday life. Her work chronicled the social milieu of the areas she lived in and visited, notably in Plymouth. Her most enduring images are of larger-than-life women carousing in nightclubs, eating in cafés or enjoying ribald hen parties, rendered in graphic and colourful forms. Cook’s work came to prominence in the mid-1970s, and she quickly became known as one of Britain’s best-loved artists, highly recognised for her distinctive works, which are both celebratory and provocative.

About Tom of Finland

Tom of Finland’s (b. 1920–d. 1991) pioneering depictions of homosexual machismo in his images of bikers, cowboys, labourers, and uniformed soldiers and sailors broadly represented queer, leather and muscle communities. A master draughtsman, his works gave form to an imaginative universe that, in turn, helped fuel real-world liberation movements and had a significant influence on a wide range of cultural figures, including the Village People, Freddie Mercury, Jean Paul Gaultier and Robert Mapplethorpe. Tom of Finland first published his work via proto-porn “fitness” magazines and a covert but extensive network of friends and followers.

Studio Voltaire is located at 1A Nelsons Row, Clapham, SW4 7JR

For more information about this and other exhibitions at Studio Voltaire, visit studiovoltaire.org.

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About Tim Firmager

Tim divides his time being a Digital Consultant in The City and as a food and travel writer across the globe. When he's not working as one of the Lifestyle Editors here at Vada, he's planning his next trip, or on the lookout for the latest food crazes or unusual foods in London's markets.