Peter Coker 1926-2004


Zwemmer Gallery, London
Mrs J. Lloyd, 26 November 1959
Private Collection, UK


1959, London, Zwemmer Gallery, Peter Coker, Oct. - Nov. 1959, cat. no. 15
2017, London, Piano Nobile, Peter Coker: Mind and Matter, 5 April - 13 May 2017, cat. no. 6


Peter Coker: Mind and Matter, 2017, exh. cat. Piano Nobile, cat. no. 6, pp. 26-27 (col. illus.)
In Easter 1955, Coker undertook his first trip exploring France beyond Paris, travelling to Barbizon and the Fontainebleau Forest, and Étretat on the Normandy Coast. Both sites were intimately associated with the French Romantic tradition but Coker’s trip
was an homage to Courbet, who spent prolonged periods of time in Barbizon and Étretat. Each location made an immediate, powerful impression upon Coker, so much so that he returned that summer and the Easter of the following year, expanding his
travels to include Audierne, associated with de Staël. Coker’s drawings and subsequent paintings during this first foray into the French landscape formed the basis for his second exhibition at Zwemmer Gallery in 1957. Tree I was included in his third show
with the Zwemmer Gallery in 1959, but stylistically relates to the era of Gorse Bush, 1957, Tate, the product of a summer 1957 trip to Étretat and Audierne, Coker’s first driving expedition abroad upon passing his driving test.

In Tree I, a single tree fills the sheet of paper with a wall or hedge behind. Alongside forest scenes, both in France and at home, Coker frequently depicted lone trees, not necessarily magnificent ancient boughs but trees that ‘confronted’ him. John Russell
Taylor described Coker’s search for the tree that could inspire: “like Monet on his first trip to the Riviera, he realized that just any tree would not do it, it had to be the right tree, and he would know it only when he saw it.” This tree literally and metaphorically
dominates the work, assuming an anthropomorphically human presence.

The drawing is heavily worked in charcoal and conté, Coker’s usual drawing materials: “I probably over-densify things anyway, no doubt because of the physical nature of the work, the pressure, possibly because of the speed and directness of statement that
I want.” The density of mark-making in Tree I augments the packed composition, reflecting the sensation of compactness Coker experienced in the environs of Audierne. In a letter Coker addressed to the Tate upon presenting Gorse Bush to the gallery in 1986 in memory of his son, Coker wrote, “I moved to the coast, making notes and drawings of the lighthouse, the sea, coastal fields, stonewalls, cabbage plots and close-ups of gorse and bracken bushes. Everything happened at eye level, the fields were separated from the shore by stone walls some four feet above the water line.”