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Artist profile - Thuline De Cock

PUBLISHED: 17:00 07 March 2017

Beatrix, the model sheep, was much admired

Beatrix, the model sheep, was much admired

Sandy Kitching https://sandyanimalphotographer.smugmug.com/httpssandyanimalphotographer.smugmug.com/

Kendal’s Thuline De Cock received rave reviews for her plastic sheep but cows on canvas are her real passion. Eileen Jones reports.

Thuline at work in her Kendal studio Thuline at work in her Kendal studio

Farmers are known occasionally to grown fond of particular “pet” lamb. But artist Thuline De Cock grew emotionally attached to a pretend sheep.

Beatrix was one of the fantasy “Go Herdwick” flock that adorned locations across the Lake District through last summer. The 60 sheep and 25 lambs, made of glass-reinforced plastic, were eventually sold at auction and raised more than £250,000 for the Calvert Trust charity.

Beatrix spent the summer in the gateway to the Cedar Manor Hotel at Windermere where she was sponsored by the hotel’s owners, Jonathan and Caroline Kaye. Each sponsor then commissioned an artist of their choice to paint the sheep, and that’s where Thuline stepped in.

Her design, featuring dry stone walls, an outline of the Langdale Pikes, mountain bikers and climbers and daffodils, was a showstopper. Beatrix, standing on a platform of tiles under the eponymous ancient Cedar tree, was admired by thousands. And Thuline, whose work is on display at a number of key Lake District venues, was a regular visitor.

Thulines work also adorns cushions and coasters Thulines work also adorns cushions and coasters

‘I grew very fond of her. It was the most unusual commission I’ve had, and it was wonderful to see how she made so many people smile,’ she says.

At the charity auction, Beatrix was sold for the third highest bid of the night, £5000, and was bought by a family with a house at Ullswater. ‘I know she’s gone to a good home,’ says Thuline.

We’re talking in her eclectically-furnished studio-gallery on Kendal’s main street, where huge faces of Friesian cattle and Herdwick sheep peer from every corner, and visitors can sit on a rocking chair that once belong’s to her husband’s great-aunt.

Thuline opened the studio three years ago, but she’s been based in Kendal for more than 20 years. Originally from Bruges in Belgium, she met her Cumbrian husband Dave Hill – also an artist – on holiday in Spain. She had studied interior architecture in Ghent, and had been travelling across Europe, the USA and Ghana. It was Dave who persuaded her to resume her art career in the UK. Their sons, Cameron and Dylan, both go to Kirbie Kendal school, and Thuline, also a trained teacher, runs art workshops and demonstrations across the north.

A portrait of Highland cattle was sold to North Carolina A portrait of Highland cattle was sold to North Carolina

Her animal paintings are distinctive and unusual. Regular visitors to the Lakes will have seen them at the Jumble Room in Grasmere, at Wilf’s Café in Staveley, and in the Sun Inn at Crook, among others.

Why so many cows? ‘Cows are funny creatures. Just like humans, they have their own characters. Their faces show expressions and a curiosity that never stop to amaze and fascinate me,’ says Thuline. ‘I observe animals, their shapes, gestures and mannerisms and in developing my ideas, I take them quite often out of their context. I like using bold colours.

‘I explore the possibilities of bringing the subjects in and out of focus. Composition plays an important role in my paintings. I sometimes use perspective to distort images. And I enjoy the gathering of information as much as I do the painting.’

Animal lovers from across the UK and beyond are falling for her work. ‘I’ve just sent a cow to America,’ says Thuline. A very large one, in fact, much bigger than usual. ‘These visitors came into the studio and saw a huge painting of a Friesian cow. They said, we want one like this, only even bigger.’ And so the giant picture was shipped recently to Washington DC. Another, not quite on the same scale, has travelled to Seattle. Meanwhile, a batch of cushions decorated with one of Thuline’s cows, was sent to the town of Charlotte in North Carolina as prizes in a Highland cattle competition. Closer to home, Thuline has painted another big Friesian which was a farmer’s favourite cow on his farm in Devon. The commission came from the man’s fiancée who wanted the painting as a wedding present for him. Thuline says that wedding-gift lists increasingly include her work.

A giant Friesian went to Washington DC A giant Friesian went to Washington DC

Dogs are the most commonly commissioned pet paintings; a couple of Labradors on canvas are staring from the other side of the room. There have been more unusual requests, of course, including a tentative request for a snow leopard ‘though that’s not materialised yet.’

Thuline exhibits in a number of galleries throughout the UK and Ireland, and she has work in private collections in Britain and overseas. She’s had solo exhibitions in the north, including Percy House at Cockermouth, Gallery15 in Penrith, Keswick’s Theatre by the Lake, the Brewery Arts Centre in Kendal, and Liverpool’s Blue Coat Chambers.

Thuline’s arrival had a big impact on the area around her gallery. ‘It has cheered up this end of town. It’s not just that people are talking about it – it has inspired other artists who have moved in nearby, such as a rug maker.’

Thuline herself has started working with a company which puts her images onto cushions, aprons, tea towels and bags, and she’s running art workshops for beginners and those who want to gain more confidence with their painting and drawing.

Her own ambitions reflect the range and imagination of her art. She would love to illustrate a children’s book, and to design and execute a big mural in a public space. And her ultimate dream? ‘I’d love an exhibition in the Saatchi Gallery in London, with massive paintings of cows.’

For more details and commissions see www.thuline.com

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