Barrie Cooke (1931-2014). Casting and Gathering: a Painter and Two Poets

The leading Irish expressionist painter Barrie Cooke (1931-2014) features in many European and American permanent collections. His Irish Times obituary describes him as ‘an artists’ artist’, but he was a poets’ artist too. His two closest friends were Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney and Poet Laureate Ted Hughes, and he collaborated with both men over decades, illustrating but also inspiring some of their finest verse. Cooke, Hughes and Heaney shared a passion for the wild waters and boglands of Ireland and the creatures they drew from them. Cooke and Hughes fished together on rough trips with Hughes’s son Nicholas to the lakes and rivers of Ireland’s west and Midlands; their example inspired Heaney to revisit his own watery childhood spent beside the rivers Moyola and Bann and beside Lough Neagh. From Hughes’s Crow (1970) to ‘The Great Irish Pike’ (1982) and ‘Saint’s Island’ (1986), and from Heaney’s great Bog Poems (1975) via his translation of a medieval Irish epic, Sweeney Astray, in 1984, and on to late collaborations on the pollution of the Moyola and lithographs to mark Heaney’s seventieth birthday, Cooke’s readings of his friends’ work, in letters and in 150 recently discovered but still barely known watercolours, charcoal drawings and monotypes now, sustained all three men. A generous grant from the Centre will enable me to travel to Ireland to complete the research for a book on this great triangular friendship, Casting and Gathering: a Painter and Two Poets, and to plan a series of exhibitions in Cambridge and in Ireland.

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