Gary Cook – Painter

Gary Cook is a Dorset-based environmental painter and The Ecologist’s Artist in Residence whose work highlights the damage we are inflicting on our wildlife. His watercolour and oil montages are a fusion of traditional painting and hard-hitting graphics, a style directly influenced by his background in the newspaper industry. Cook was an associate editor and the senior artist at The Sunday Times for 26 years and during that time worked on all the UK’s biggest stories, winning many international awards for his illustrations. Cook confesses: “The newsroom atmosphere was addictive and, even now, I can’t stop myself from imposing ridiculous deadlines to complete projects. Fortunately, I no longer have an editor breathing down my neck, complaining I’m holding up his newspaper.”

Cook’s paintings, or infocanvases as he likes to call them, combine images of endangered wildlife with graphical information about their plight discreetly hidden in the background. The artist says: “I am so often shocked at the environmental danger some of our most-loved animals are under. I feel the urge to flag up the threat to as many people as I can.” He adds: “I want people to look at my work and be drawn in by a beautiful image, such as the polar bear. Then, on closer inspection, discover the shocking statistics subtly painted into the background that demonstrate how we are in danger of losing the very creatures we hold so dear because of how our behaviour affects them and their habitats.”

Cook recently exhibited alongside 40 international artists including Turner Prize-winner Grayson Perry and pioneering sculpturist Gavin Turk in aid of The Green Party.

Studland seahorse IV – Endangered Spiny seahorses breed in Studland Bay. Unfortunately, during the summer 300 boats per day drop anchor there, inadvertently killing the sea grasses these exotic fish call home. As a consequence seahorse sightings in the bay are becoming rarer.
High stakes – I’ve seen tuna while diving on holiday and was amazed at their size, sleekness and silky beauty. Southern Bluefin Tuna are critically endangered yet we are still overfishing them, mostly before they are sexually mature. As a result, it is thought that only 9% of these 7ft-long fish remain worldwide.
I was lucky enough to see six of these sleek mammals in a river close to me in Dorset. Otters vanished from most of the UK in the 1970s due to toxic pesticides, hunting and habitat loss. By banning the chemicals and hunting they have returned to most of the country. Sketching the otters I saw was so difficult. They are constantly moving effortlessly through the water. It’s great to have them return to our rivers.
Killing whales – In the wild, killer whales swim 100 miles per day. FIfty-seven are kept in tanks at theme parks. These tanks are so small that even if they swim in circles all day they can only manage four miles.
The elephant in the room – The inspiration for this infocanvas, was the shocking facts of man’s effect on elephants. With 93 a day being killed for their ivory, it really is something we need to talk about. The canvas reveals how elephants have been reduced from a global population of 5m in the 1930s to just 500,000 now.
Vulnerable III – The killing of Cecil the lion shocked people about the world of big game hunting. This and other man-made dangers mean these 400lb predators are now, according to the IUCN ‘Vulnerable’. In 1940 there were 450,000 wild lions, through our actions there are only 20,000 left.


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