AS Adrian Fordham says, most of us would be delighted if anonymous English street artist Banksy came along and slapped some graffiti on the front of our homes.
Banksy has an international reputation for his satirical and subversive street art, so his act of ‘vandalism’ would probably add substantially to the price of any house he used as a vehicle for his work.
What many people don’t realise, though, is that Spalding had its own Banksy living and working in the town, although his subject matter was less political than playful and whimsical, with images of horses, boats, birds and other animls popping up on house fronts, walls and driveways across the district during the 1960s and 1970s.
Jack Cooper was no artist, and his work is mainly forgotten, and in many cases has disappeared over time along with disintegrating walls and other structures, but nevertheless it is a little-know part of the heritage of South Holland. However, the work has taken on greater importance as a result of contemporary artist Adrian (70), who has been so inspired by Jack’s story that he has paid tribute to him and his subject matter is two large works of art.
One is Anchorage, the name of Jack’s home in Little London, which depicts in oils the boats, ducks and ship’s wheel commonly seen in Jack’s work, while the other is the Stampede of the Mobos, a humourous depiction of the sculptural relief horses that can still be seen in the town.
“When I first came to Spalding I lived in Little London and I noticed all these boats and horses,” explains Adrian, who is now working and living in Bourne Road, Pode Hole. “I realised a lot of them were disappearing so I walked around taking photographs and I actually knocked on doors and asked if I could take photographs of any sculptures in people’s back gardens.”
Jack moved to Little London in Spalding in the 20s and died in 1978 – he is buried in Deeping St Nicholas churchyard. Amazingly, he was not so much a craftsman as a man of all trades, replacing tiles, clearing drains and propping up walls. For many years he worked for a local building firm, Merryweather and Townsend, working in the evenings to earn extra money by digging cisterns or doing odd jobs.
His specialism was pebble-dashing, and he applied this finish to a chapel as well as is own home before being asked to apply the same treatment to other houses in the town. One day, Jack relieved the plain surface of his work by trowelling the outline of a ship on a wall – he was born in Blakeney in Norfolk and his father worked on the barges. Later, he was given a toy horse, and he used this as a mould and soon horses began to appear in his work and, later still, other animals and simple motifs.
The realisation that much of Jack’s work is being lost to us prompted Adrian to start researching his life and work, but the subject matter suits Adrian’s distinctive and bold style of art, so the tribute pieces were a natural progression.
“I think Jack’s work has a touch of humour and I have a sense of humour so I try and bring out any humour in my work,” says Adrian, who was a furniture restorer for most of his life, finally exploring an early aptitude for art by attending classes at Riverbank Studios in Spalding, where he developed his own style. He continued: “I like vibrancy and colour and these two pieces are the result. I think comparison with Banksy is a bit strong, but round here you don’t get artistic graffiti and Jack did hundreds. He reckoned he could only go as far as his bicycle would take him, but he went out to Saracen’s Head and I believe he didn’t always ask permission.”
Adrian’s research will not go to waste: Ayscoughfee Hall Museum officer Julia Knight has expressed interest in having a display about Jack Cooper and possibly linking it to children’s activities at the museum during the summer.
l See Adrian’s work this weekend at his studio at 259 Bourne Road, Pode Hole, when it is open to the public as part of Lincolnshire Open Studios (11am-4pm).