Divided # 84, oil on cottonduck, 1999
© Royal Academy of Arts, London

Portrait of Sandra Fisher, oil on canvas, 1993
© Royal Academy of Arts, London

[3] James Hunkin, Maurice Cockrill RA in the studio of his London home, photograph, June 2001
© Royal Academy of Arts, London

Artist of the Month - October 2016


Maurice Cockrill RA (1936-2013)

Painter, draughtsman and printmaker, Cockrill's work defies classification and his career is marked by dramatic changes in style; he explained that his work has 'gone from very severe realism in the 1960s through a loosening up process to become fairly personalised expressionism.' In 1968 he took the dramatic step of destroying work made in his previous meticulous style. As well as painting Cockrill wrote poetry and was inspired by literature and Japanese art and calligraphy. 'Boredom' he stated 'has caused me to keep moving forward… I'm always seeking to create something that doesn't look like anything else. The aim is to make an image or object that surprises me and hopefully others too.'

Painted in 1999 Divided # 84 [1] demonstrates Cockrill's later commitment to abstraction. The painting was exhibited in the Royal Academy's Summer Exhibition in 2000 before he donated it as his diploma work. This is the final in a series of Divided paintings, each with a composition split into two: one showing an almost sculptural form and the other lines on blocks of colour. Nicholas Alfrey described these forms as indicating 'the opposition of male and female, technology and nature, armature and embryo.'

Cockrill's Portrait of Sandra Fisher [2]1993 is firmly rooted in figuration but the loose brushstrokes demonstrate the speed at which he aimed to capture the essence of the sitter. The portrait was painted at a time when Sandra Fisher and Cockrill were painting each other, alternating between their studios each week over a couple of years. Cockrill explained 'we were keen to make these representations fresh and immediate, "in one breadth" as it were, hence the brief period of time allowed for each, i.e., before lunch or after lunch.' Sandra Fisher (1947-1994) was born in New York but moved to London after she met her future husband, R.B. Kitaj RA. She exhibited widely and received various commissions including one from London Transport to contribute to their Art on the Underground series.

Cockrill moved often with his family when young and did many diverse jobs before studying painting in evening classes in the late 1950s and then at Fine Art at Wrexham School of Art 1960-61 and the University of Reading 1961-64. His first solo exhibition was held in 1984 at the Edward Totah Gallery in London and he soon established an international reputation. Prizes include the John Moores Liverpool Exhibition, 1974; the Arts Council of Great Britain, Flags and other projects, 1977; the Arts Council of Great Britain major award, 1977-8; the Arts Council Works of Art in Public Spaces, 1978-9; and the British Council Award, 1985.

Cockrill [3] taught in the Royal Academy Schools from 1994 to 1998 and was elected to the Royal Academy in 1999. He was Keeper of the Royal Academy Schools from 2005 to 2011. Of this important position, his colleague Richard Kirwan explained Cockrill 'quickly won the trust of subsequent generations of students that he would support the diversity of their work… Maurice always remained good humoured and open to new possibilities for art.'