Cooke moved to the US as a teenager and studied Art History at Harvard University. He moved to Ireland in 1954 and had his first solo exhibition in Dublin the following year. Though he has been based in Ireland ever since, he is widely travelled and his richly expressionist, semi-abstract paintings have been strongly influenced by time spent in such far-flung places as Lapland, New Zealand, Borneo and Malaya. Nature in its infinite variety and irresistible flux is his chosen environment and subject matter, and in this new body of work Cooke turns his attention once more to Ireland to address, on this occasion, the interaction of sun and cloud and it's dramatic impact on the local landscape.
Cooke has also, however, painted a number of nudes, as refracted through what Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney has referred to as his 'aqueous vision'. He has collaborated with a number of prominent poets including Heaney and the British Poet Laureate Ted Hughes, both of whom share his fascination with the elemental. Though primarily a painter, he has also produced a series of 'bone boxes' in Perspex during the 1970's. These and other major works from the last 40 years will be on view in a major retrospective exhibition of Cooke's work at the RHA, Gallagher Gallery 11 September - 26 October, 2003.
Cooke has exhibited widely throughout Europe, the US and Canada. Major retrospectives include shows in the Douglas Hyde Gallery in 1986, the Haags Gemeentemuseum in 1992, and LAC, Perpignan, France in 1995. His work is represented in the collections of the Irish Museum of Modern Art, the Ulster Museum, the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, the Haags Gemeentemuseum, The Hague, Holland and in many other public and private collections worldwide.