47 1/4 x 38 1/4 in
Private Collection, UK
2017, London, Piano Nobile, Peter Coker: Mind and Matter, 5 April - 13 May 2017, cat. no. 7, col. ill. p. 29.
David Wootton with contributions by John Russell Taylor and Richard Humphreys, Peter Coker RA (Chris Beetles Ltd, 2002), cat. rais. no. 69, p. 120.
A. Lambirth and C. Etter, A monographic exploration of Peter Coker's 1958-9 'Sunflowers' (Piano Nobile Publications, 2012).
1958. The second oil, Sunflowers, 1960, resides in an international Private Collection whilst the last in the trio, Sunflowers, 1961, is in the collection of Pallant House Gallery, Chichester. Coker would undoubtedly have appreciated the historical precedent to his motif in Van Gogh’s iconic sunflowers but a reason more pragmatic than evocative lay behind the choice of subject. Sunflowers grew in abundance in the garden of Coker’s London home but, when Coker and his family moved to Essex, the theme came to a natural halt as sunflowers would not take in the new garden. Still-lifes held an important role in Coker’s early works – this was amongst the last subject that could claim to adhere to this genre before landscape took precedence.
Sunflowers is monumental in scale, echoing the statuesque sunflower, though Coker always had a predisposition towards the grandiose, heightening effect through literal aggrandisement. A generous bunch of stems sits in a vase, the yellow heads and rich
green of the foliage offset by the umber background, the autumnal colours fitting for the typical blooming of sunflowers in late summer. With heads bowed to the ground, as if in lament for their passing, and beginning to shrivel, the flowers have passed
from glorious bloom to melancholy wilt. The symbolism of drooping, dying flowers evidently captured Coker’s imagination far more than sunflowers in full splendour. Drawn to the ominous and turbulent in landscapes, even in this joyous abundance of
sunflowers, Coker asserts the inescapable synchronicity of the forces of life and death. Laden with thick oil paint applied in broad, unbroken swathes, the surface of Sunflowers is overwhelmingly smooth and impenetrable. Texture is homogenous across the
painting – lush, almost glossy oil paint draws the viewer to scrutinise the surface. The sheer weight and solidity of the painting states its objecthood. As Coker argued, the “solidity…is all to do with recreating nature and making an equivalently solid object.” Paint itself - tangible matter - was the primary protagonist throughout Coker’s career.