Maurice Cockrill was born in Hartlepool in County Durham. He studied at Wrexham Art School and attended University of Reading 1963-4. He then moved to Liverpool where he lived for 18 years, establishing himself as a painter and lectured at the Liverpool College of Art and Liverpool Polytechnic. Cockrill’s Liverpool work employed Pop and Photo-Realist styles. Later he moved towards a more expressionistic figurative style in the 1980s, embarking on a striking series of paintings that were both challenging and visceral. The 1990s saw a renewed interest in landscape and his best works of this period show echoes of the English Neo-Romantics and earlier landscape styles. After exploring figurative art his work became progressively more abstract during the mid 1990s with the Generation series, before becoming completely abstract by the end of the decade. Although he has always been a very hard artist to categorise, there is a strong thematic thread linking all his mature work. His evolution from figurative to abstract art was the logical progression of an enquiring and wildly inventive mind.
A retrospective of his work (1974 to 1994) was held at the Walker Art Gallery (Liverpool) in 1995 and a further retrospective was held at the Royal West of England Academy (Bristol) in 1998. Cockrill was elected to the Royal Academy (London) in 1999 and between 2005 and 2011, he was Keeper of the Royal Academy. Cockrill died in December 2013 before the opening of the full career retrospective in Durham Art Gallery in January 2014. This exhibition coincided with the publication of a major hard back monograph on the artist's life and work.
Cockrill was a Prize Winner in the John Moores Liverpool Exhibition in 1974. Subsequent awards include Arts Council of Great Britain, Flags and other Projects (prize winner), Royal Festival Hall (1977), an Arts Council of Great Britain Major Award which led to an extended visit to the United States (1977-78) and the Arts Council Works of Art in Public Spaces (1978-9). He also received a British Council Award in 1985 and was shortlisted for the Jerwood Prize in 1994.