Peter Coker 1926-2004

Provenance

Collection of the artist

Piano Nobile (label on reverse)

Private Collection, UK

Exhibitions

1964, London, Zwemmer Gallery, Peter Coker, no. 17

1965, London, Royal Academy of Arts, Summer Exhibition, no. 156

1972/73, Colchester, The Minories, Peter Coker RA, paintings, pastels, drawings, etchings, no. 26, as Aldeburgh; touring to Bath, Victoria Gallery; London, The Morley Gallery; Sheffield, Mappin Art Gallery

1978, Chelmsford, Chelmsford and Essex Museum, Works by Peter Coker R.A., no. 15

2005, London, Piano Nobile, Peter Coker, no number, col. ill., p. 9 and front cover.

2017, London, Piano Nobile, Peter Coker: Mind and Matter, 5 April - 13 May 2017, cat. no. 12, col. ill. p. 39.

Literature

David Wootton with contributions by John Russell Taylor and Richard Humphreys, Peter Coker RA (Chris Beetles Ltd, 2002), cat. rais. no. 101, p. 121, col. ill. p. 69.

Aldeburgh, on the North Sea coast in Suffolk, represented the northernmost point of East Anglia that Coker ventured to whilst mining the region for atmospheric vistas. Returning frequently to Aldeburgh, Coker rented a flat on the first floor of Tower House, then owned by Bruce Killeen, a colleague of Coker’s at Colchester School of Art. From the windows of Tower House, Coker could survey the broad expanse of sea lapping the shingle shoreline. Speaking in 1989, Coker described the act of painting as a “confrontation” with nature – an element of struggle, of menace or peril punctuates his early landscapes. Avidly avoiding the nostalgia of the ‘picturesque’, Coker instead produces works like Aldeburgh I, 1964, that overwhelm with visceral immediacy. Staring down a tempestuous sea face-on, the viewer is engulfed by nature as the surging waves of high tide must be swirling around his or her proverbial feet.

Acutely aware of the weight of tradition and immersed in the legacies of the artists he held in esteem, Aldeburgh I is an assured synthesis of artistic references that inform Coker’s distinctive sensibility. Whilst the precedent of Courbet’s stormy seas holds strong as with Seascape [cat. 11], the pink hues of a setting sun over a turbulent North Sea inescapably recalls the British tradition of threatening seascapes, particularly those of JMW Turner. The narrow band of sky visible above a high horizon line echoes a
motif found in de Staël’s horizons, that of building up strata of colour as seen in works such as Fontenay, 1952; Private Collection. The view of Aldeburgh beach is slightly angled down the shore so the waves break on the horizontal and a triangle of shingle
is visible in the lower left of the composition. Coker’s delineation of individual pebbles instantly recalls works such as de Staël’s Composition 1951, 1951; Private Collection, with its idiosyncratic accumulation of askew rectangular blocks of paint.

Comparing Aldeburgh I with the earlier Seascape, Coker substitutes towering waves more akin to rock faces than water with whirling white foam. High tide waves crash up the shore, eddying and swirling in foaming pools before being subsumed into the next wave, which – in Aldeburgh I – is coiled ready to unleash with full force. The sheath of frothing white encompasses a multiplicity of tones: greens, blues, pinks, greys, even touches of black bleed into one another in marbled vortices. Ever conscious of his artistic forefathers, Coker wore the inheritance he assumed lightly, producing in Aldeburgh I a work that reverberates with historical echoes and yet is entirely original and ferociously modern.