World-famous artist pays tribute to college where he sold his first painting for £50

World-famous artist pays tribute to college where he sold his first painting for £50

World-famous artist Nigel Cooke has commended plans for the £24m redevelopment of his former college for its bid to inspire future generations of students.

Transformation plans for Stockport College could see some of the campus buildings repurposed, including where Cooke studied Art Foundation as well as Art and Design from 1989 to 1991.

After selling his first piece of art to a college lecturer for £50 in Stockport, the 46-year-old’s paintings have fetched up to £200,000 and been exhibited in the Tate Britain, South London Gallery, the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Moderna Museet, Stockholm and The Douglas Hyde Gallery, Dublin.

Cooke’s work now features in collections at the Guggenheim Museum, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Museum of Contemporary Art and UCLA Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, the Dallas Museum of Art, the Queensland Art Gallery in Brisbane and the Moderna Museet in Stockholm as well as the Tate and British Council in London.

Cooke said: “I had some of the best times of my life at Stockport College. It’s where I fell in love with painting.

“Every day at Stockport College was a huge revelation. At that age you are on fire. When you’re younger I think your perspectives on art get formatted and then stay with you. When it happens, it's like a light-bulb moment - from there, it's like you’re always circling back to that origin.”

Cooke went to Wellington Boys School and would catch the 371 bus from his family home in Timperley every day.

“I nearly didn’t get onto the course. Foundation Art was full, but I walked in anyway with a load of sketchbooks on the first day - something you couldn’t do these days. The tutor said he had a good feeling about me so he said I could work on the stairs until someone dropped out. Then five days later, I was in.”

During his two years at Stockport College, Cooke said he was inspired by his tutors, artists in their own right, who put on shows and used creative teaching techniques to improve students’ work. He also has fond memories of the library that will be redesigned and relocated above the college entrance in the redevelopment plans.

 “I found my first book on Francis Bacon - a big influence on me - at Stockport College Library and I remember the sun shining in through the window, the atmosphere, the feel of the book and everything like it was yesterday. That was a big moment my life.”

Stockport College was where he was able to learn painting techniques from trying oils out at home that he had inherited from his grandfather.

“My time at Stockport College was a magical era. Like waking up. I was lucky I was so young, aged 17. It was like an epiphany, it changed my life. Now it feels like I’ll always be able to do something exciting.”

His work has been described by the New York Times as a combination of Magic Realist illusion, post-apocalyptic fantasy and extreme shifts of scale. New unseen works consisting of ‘dystopian landscapes’ and ‘oddball characters’ are on display until March 24 at exhibition Painter’s Beach Club at the Jerwood Art Gallery in Hastings.

“I always tried to make my images a celebration of my loves and interests. I use a range of vocabularies to give them a voice,” he explained.