Jack Simcock was born in Biddulph, Staffordshire on 6th June 1929, the only child of George, a collier, and his wife, Lily. After primary school, where he always felt an outsider and hated games, Simcock went to the junior technical school in Burslem. He worked hard and was usually top of the class in machine drawing. Two years later, with “only the vaguest idea of what I wanted to do”, he joined the drawing office of a firm making coalmining machinery, one of several jobs during which he also attended night school. Further private studies in pursuit of a career in architecture led him to a near-breakdown.
Simcock was conscripted into the army in 1947. During national service, he started painting and on demobilisation in 1949, with his father’s support, began working in oils. He joined Burslem Art School, part of Stoke-on-Trent College of Art, with the help of Arthur Berry, who taught painting there. Despite one of his pictures being bought for Stoke-on-Trent City Art Gallery and success at the college, Simcock twice failed to gain his national diploma.
He married a local girl, Beryl Shallcross, in 1952. Needing an income, Simcock had begun teaching arts and crafts at a private school, attending evening classes in life drawing. After he had accumulated a group of paintings of his local landscape, with the encouragement of Berry he took six of them to London.
The Piccadilly Gallery, the first on his list, liked and kept them. After a millionaire collector from Los Angeles bought one of the largest, Simcock was offered a solo show in 1957. “This was the beginning,” he wrote later. The Piccadilly Gallery was his agent for the next 30 years.
The following year, on “a foggy, damp, miserable day”, Simcock viewed 13 Primitive Street, Mow Cop, where “houses were like large tombs, the roads like paths through a graveyard”. It was, he wrote, as if he “had stepped on to a Dracula film set. I was frightened, but I had a premonition that I would live and die in that house.” The house and the surrounding area would inspire him for years.
At first glance, Simcock’s Mow Cop pictures impress as monochromes, but he insisted this was not so. Writing in the Staffordshire Sentinel in 1963, his old artist friend Reginald Haggar pointed out “the richness of colour that underlies the seemingly black and white effects, glints of terracotta and old gold through steely grey”.
It is easy to miss the poetry in the work, poetry that was in the man, too. This emerges from his singular autobiography, Simcock, Mow Cop (1975), in which he reflected on his life, his family background, his environment, beliefs and artistic preferences. In that year he also published a slim volume of sensitive poems, Midnight Till Three.