Known for her distinctively stylised depictions of people and a mischievous use of light, colour, texture, and perspective that plays with the viewer’s sense of space and time, PJ Crook is a fascinating contemporary British artist. Which is why we’re incredibly proud to be launching her as one of our new featured artists, with four pieces taken from throughout her career making up a brand new collection at Trinity House.
As part of our launch, we spoke to the artist herself to find out more about the background, influences and inspirations that gave life to her exceptional body of work.
Fascination on Canvas
To ask PJ Crook what inspires her is to trigger an ebullient catalogue that includes travel, nature, food, the media, strangers, friends, and loved ones. In short, she takes inspiration from everything and everyone, and it is this fascination with life in all its complication and vibrancy that has led to the creation of her unique style; a sometimes playful, sometimes melancholy, yet always distinctive take on the world around her.
In part, her famously personal and stylised approach is thanks to her preference for working from memory and imagination over direct reference. PJ paints almost exclusively from her studio in the Cotswolds – a tranquil space that she says allows her to work without distraction. “I work from subconscious, and imagination, and observation,” she says. “I paint quite intuitively.”
Crook’s intuitive style has gained her international acclaim. Her work has been displayed in galleries and institutions from the UK to the USA, Japan, and Saudi Arabia, as well as in the private collections of fans worldwide. Despite exhibiting all around the world, she is steadfastly faithful to her hometown of Cheltenham, where she was born and still resides.
Indeed, the impressively extensive list of local charities and arts causes of which she is patron – including the National Star College, leukemia charity Linc, Cheltenham Open Studios, and Art Shape – demonstrates her love for and dedication to her local community. She is also an honorary Vice President of Gloucestershire College and was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Art by the University of Gloucestershire – something which she claims was especially meaningful as she had studied there earlier in her career. “Being connected with those [organisations] keeps me in touch with my community and people so it’s very important,” she says.
Recognition abounds beyond the beautiful Cotswolds too; Crook is a member of the Chelsea Arts Club, a Royal Society of Arts Fellow, and was awarded her MBE for services to art in 2011.
PJ Crook at Trinity House
Our new and exclusive collection consists of four works taken from various periods in Crook’s life and career. Each representative of her renowned style and yet distinctive in its own way, the paintings would make the perfect addition to both new or established collections.
The earliest piece in our collection and perhaps one of the most easily recognisable, Big City is a fantastic example of Crooks fascination with crowds of people. Painted in tinted gesso on canvas on corrugated wood, the piece displays her characteristically muted palettes and her bold, sculptural technique. “I like working on three-dimensional pieces like that,” Crook says of the piece, “What particularly interests me is that the surface isn’t flat so painting is more complex. I like the distortions so, as you walk past a corrugated piece, noses or cheeks might be elongated or shortened. That and the feeling of movement it creates is what really fascinates me about the three-dimensional aspect of corrugated pieces.”
An excellent example of the direction Crook’s style has been taking recently, this 2016 piece was inspired the artist’s husband’s love of food and cooking. “The Crustacean is inspired by my husband, Richard,” she says. “He is passionate about cooking so I have done a series of paintings for him, at birthdays and Christmas, of him as a chef in a white hat and jacket. When he was young he had this dual love, he had to decide whether to study art or whether to become a chef; he did art. He does all the cooking at home so when I do paintings of a chef, there’s a resemblance to him. He loves cooking lobsters and oysters, there’s much inspired by him.”
Perhaps brighter and more vibrant than her earlier works, The Crustacean nevertheless carries identifiers that mark the piece out as Crook’s; the disconcertingly melancholic expressions of the chef, the contrasting tones, and the theatrical, 3D composition that plays with the viewer’s perception.
Another painting inspired by a loved one, this time the artist’s father, this 2015 piece is an example of her characteristic studies of the anonymity of groups of people in an everyday setting. “I can remember going up to see him in a snooker hall when I was quite young, in my teens,” she says of her father. “…and going into this very smoky, mysterious atmosphere filled with men, sometimes looking slightly sinister and other times just loving the game.” Showcasing Crook’s more typically muted colours and a great example of the way her works combine both memory and imagination, Cueing Up is painted directly onto a wooden frame that gives a sense of space and draws the viewer into the smoky snooker hall in exactly the way the artist was drawn into her father’s way of life.
The most modern part of our collection, Cheltenham is perhaps one of the most indicative of the artist’s style. Featuring her famous crowds, this time perusing newspapers, the piece was inspired by Crook’s fascination with the way newspapers have changed over the years. “I love the idea of newspapers and the way they evolve. Since I’ve been making newspaper paintings – the first one was 1988 – newspapers themselves have changed in format,” she describes. “They are in a way history paintings because they look at the news across the whole day or that weekend, they reflect the different points of view of the newspapers and I try to reflect that in the people that are reading them.”
Eagle-eyed viewers or fans of Crook’s work will also notice another signature marker; the inclusion of twins or double people, alongside bright bold colours and a sense of movement that brings life to this bustling depiction of her beloved hometown.