This site is a dedicated tribute to the lifetime of painting and drawing of John Woodcock, who passed away in January 2017 aged 89.

Although he also lived and worked in London, Birmingham, Coventry and many other places in the UK during his life, he felt that Ilfracombe was his true home – the town he grew up in and to which he later returned to paint and draw.

His influences were Picasso, Diebenkorn, Appel, de Stael, Giorgione, Bellini,  Gauguin, Pollock, Guston, later referring to Elizabethan, Egyptian and Aztec culture and costume stylistically. Sci Fi, space travel, and the Lost city of Atlantis thematically. Also symbolism and Religious Iconography played their part. He used a variety of traditional media;  pencil, oil paint, acrylic paint, ceramic, lithography and less traditional media; house emulsion paint, enamel paint, metal powders, egg shell, rice, cigarette ends, teabags, polystyrene tile, scrim mesh, and computer generated collage.

He carried out historical research on the North Devon seaside town of Ilfracombe for the Ilfracombe Museum.  Much of his research was printed in the Ilfracombe Focus Magazine, which is published every month.  Archives can be viewed in the online publications. Some of his artwork can also be viewed at the Carlton Hotel in the town. 

As more paintings and drawings are found, the site will be updated. 

This prolific artist, actor and author, John Leslie Woodcock was born 30th October 1927 at Fulham Hospital in Chelsea. At the age of three, he and his Parents Annie and Daniel, along with his baby sister Patricia, moved to Brookdale Villas in Lee, a small seaside village in North Devon.  His Woodcock grandparents lived in Lee. They were head gardener and housekeeper at Cliff House. His parents Annie and Daniel had met while the worked in the Lee Bay hotel as Chambermaid and Porter.

From 1932 John attended Lee Bay Village Infant School which was in the building next to the church until 1938 when his father moved him to Trinity Church School in Ilfracombe, where he stayed with Uncle Rodger and Aunt Audrey Cooper. 

As a young boy he made a “bob or two, maybe ½ a crown” he said, selling portraits.

In 1940, aged 14, he was apprenticed at Welsfords Printing Works in Ilfracombe. He attended art classes at night school. In 1943 when he was working as a Civil Servant for the Royal Army Pay Corps, he attended portraiture classes held at the Ilfracombe Hotel. During this time he acted and sang in village drama productions; Kentucky Minstrels,(produced by John Marlin from the Mill House in Lee who is pictured in the painting above – the swimmer), Sweeney Todd and murder in the Red Barn, The Scarecrow, The Spinsters of Lush….

1946-48 he was in London doing National Service in the RAF where he was a Telephonist and LAC Training Instructor.

In 1948 John enrolled as a drama student at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre where he spent two years before finding work as a Juvenile Lead and Scenic Artist at the ROC Players Repertory Theatre Company in Bridgewater. Somewhere along the road John moved to Oxford to attend the Ruskin School of Art for Life Drawing.

In 1951 he moved back to London, doing the rounds of theatre agents, living in a West Kensington bedsit and working as a tea boy at Joe Lyon’s on the Tottenham Court Road. Life was tough and to make ends meet, he worked night shifts at Telfers Pie Factory. 

But there just wasn’t a living in it. In 1953 he found work in Coventry at the GPO Telephone Exchange, (which later became BT) as a telephonist and training supervisor. He could just about manage to do his artwork and acting part time at the Belgrade Theatre, alongside this job.

Throughout the 60’s and 70’s he exhibited his art work; The Tower Gallery, Coventry Umbrella Club, Herbert Art Gallery, Belgrade Theatre and the Edith Fessi Gallery. The 70’s was a period where not much art was being produced. It seems he devoted a lot of time to poetry writing in this decade.

He retired from BT in 1984 and immersed himself full time into his painting and drawing. He signed up for an Art A level course at the local Stoke Comprehensive School, where he was encouraged to go for a foundation course at Coventry University. He began in 1987 aged nearly 60 years old. At Uni he painted and sculpted in clay, but he also used the computers they had as a tool for his drawing, something he has managed to do ever since. He continued with the B.A. degree in Fine Art and graduated 1990, then continued to paint in his studio at home.

He had longed to come home to Ilfracombe, the town he grew up in and loved.
In 1994 he moved from Coventry into a flat on Oxford Park in Ilfracombe, where he continued to paint and draw. In 1997 he had an exhibition at the Chapel, Score Cemetery. He attended the Community Arts Centre art class for one afternoon a week in 2005 and later took up ceramic classes. He exhibited in 2006 at Dovetails Gallery Ilfracombe.

Not averse to using modern technology, John made a video about Dante’s Divine Comedy and another of recent artwork called ‘Dome – Interiors of the Mind’ which are both on YouTube. He wrote and posted online a children’s story called ‘Fuchsia Valley Boy’.

He had the last exhibition of his work in May 2016 at Barnstaple Museum. In the interview with Peter Wise, curator and Victorian Art Writer at Barnstaple Museum, John said that being able to draw and paint was a gift especially in old age, “it (doing art) is almost more life than life itself”.

About the Painting LEE BAY, SUMMER OF 1938