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Adrian Flowers in Kericho, Kenya, 1963

Terry Flounders and Adrian Flowers beside the Cessna Skywagon, piloted by Roy Marsh

The Brooke Bond tea plantation at Kericho, Kenya 1963

In April 1963, having just recovered from a year of illness, and facing the responsibility of providing for a family that now included three young boys, Adrian Flowers was commissioned to travel to Africa and India, to photograph tea plantations for the Brooke Bond company. It was too good an opportunity to pass up; by this time Brooke Bond had overtaken Lyons to become the largest tea company in the world. With plantations in India, Ceylon and Africa, it employed over 50,000 people. In Britain, Brooke Bond tea and PG Tips were popular brands, with the company using traditional forms of marketing, such as collectors cards, and also maintaining a fleet of distinctive red delivery vans. In the 1950s, the company ran a campaign entitled “The Story of Tea”, with a series of full-page colour documentary-style ads in magazines, depicting smiling workers planting, harvesting and processing tea. The accompanying texts were of their time: “The forest has been beaten. The matted undergrowth and tangled vines are gone. The trees have been felled and uprooted. Shade trees have been planted. A new tea estate is born. . .”

Terry Flounders and Adrian Flowers setting up an advertising shot for Brooke Bond

By 1963, the “Story of Tea” ads were looking old-fashioned and Bill Barter of the advertising firm Spotiswoode wanted to try something new; he contacted Adrian Flowers and asked him to tour the Brooke Bond plantations with his camera, taking photographs of both the growing and processing of tea, and also some marketing images. There was also a political edge to the commission: on June 1st of that year, Jomo Kenyatta was being sworn in as the new Prime Minister of Kenya, and six months later the country would declare independence from Britain. After reaping the benefits of eight decades of colonial rule, Brooke Bond would have been nervous about the future of their plantation at Kericho, which occupied prime farm land in the Rift Valley. Ostensibly, Flowers was asked to photograph the cultivation of tea for an updated Tea Story, but there may also have been a propaganda element to his tour, with Brooke Bond assembling evidence of good management, to help retain ownership of the plantation.

Going back half a century, in 1905, a massacre of Kipsigis warriors had paved the way at Kericho for a land grab by British interests. Anyone who resisted colonial rule was forcibly re-located. Initially the farms at Kericho were intended to cultivate flax, and the British East African Disabled Officers Cooperative (Beadoc) invested heavily in this project. However there was a collapse in the price of flax and Beadoc ran up substantial debts. At an auction in 1925, Brooke Bond and James Finlay bought the lands at Kericho, for £3 an acre. By 1963 the Brooke Bond plantation covered thirty thousand acres. Although the agreement whereby Kenya achieved independence called for the return of tribal lands, this was not done in the case of Kericho, and today the matter is still in dispute in Kenya’s law courts. Britain has declined to accept responsibility, stating as it is more than thirty years since independence, the case cannot be pursued.

On the 20th April, Flowers and the Spotiswoode art director, Terry Flounders, flew to Africa via Rome, the flight taking over four hours. They changed planes at Khartoum, waiting in an uncomfortable transit area for a flight to Nairobi. “Terry was chatting away . . to a man reluctantly returning to Kenya to manage some timber concern. He said he couldn’t wait to get back to his beloved Cornwall in 3 years’ time, once and for all.” After a wait of several hours they boarded a de Havilland Comet jet. Flowers suffered a severe headache during the flight, but recovered when they landed.

Arriving in Nairobi, they were taken to a private aerodrome where they met their pilot Roy Marsh, who was flying a four seater Cessna. Marsh enjoyed a degree of fame in aviation and literary history as he had been piloting the Cessna-180 in which Ernest Hemingway survived a crash some years earlier. After stowing their cases securely, they took off in bright sunshine, with Terry and Roy sitting in the front seats, and Flowers behind. His initial delight turned to disappointment when they entered cloud, but Marsh, an experienced pilot, ducked in and out of the clouds to show them Nairobi from the air, storks flying in formation and millions of flamingos at the end of a salty lake. As they approached Kericho, just east of Lake Victoria, Marsh banked the aircraft, to give them a view of the tea plantations below. Unfortunately the cloud was thickening and the light was not suitable for photography. They landed on a strip of green grass, Marsh taxiing the aircraft straight into a hanger. From there they were taken in a Ford Zodiac to the Tea Hotel, a colonial-style club house built by Brooke Bond in 1950, and by far the best hotel in Kericho. Rather than staying in the main building, the two visitors had been given a suite of rooms in a nearby bungalow, which had parquet floors, French windows and herbaceous borders outside. Their first visitor was David Russell, who took them in a faded white Vauxhall Cresta to the hotel, to meet the ‘big boss’, nicknamed ‘Beegers’:  “He was there, a kind of English Magoo in white shirt, khaki shorts flaying out, long pale brown socks. Cinzano I asked for, by this time I was against whisky and beer . . Pleasant but slightly distant conversation, and off they both went leaving us to have lunch at the hotel. Unbelievable food in large hall-like dining room with about 15 tables, 7 white people sedately eating, scattered all over room, 8 black people wearing white tunics and trousers and green fez hats serving. A huge cold buffet, but besides that a comprehensive table d’hote menu, some twelve items all of which you could have if you were hungry enough. Price 10 shillings.”  The Tea Hotel had been built by the company in 1950, perhaps in anticipation of a royal visit to Kericho—indeed just two years later it welcomed Princess Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh on their tour of Africa. A few days later while on safari, Elizabeth learned of her father’s death, and that she was to be Queen. Sold in 1975 to the Kenya Tourism Development Corporation, the hotel in more recent year has become the subject of protracted legal disputes. It is now closed and semi-derelict, although some renovation work has begun in recent months.

After lunch, Russell took the visitors on a tour of the plantation, and then to his home, where they had tea with his wife, who was French, and their four children. Flowers was saddened to learn that the Russells had been given notice to leave their paradise. “David has been given notice to leave Brooke Bond through no fault of his own. So they will probably have to leave the country. His job has been made redundant as a result of the political events. He was in charge of Brooke Bond free educational service to the Africans which has now been withdrawn.” After Russell gave them a slide show of the whole process of cultivating and processing tea, they returned to the hotel, just in time for a six course dinner. Then it was back to the bungalow, ‘flaked out’. There followed two days of what Flowers described as ‘library photography’. As it was the rainy season, the light was not ideal. The weather was against him, locations were far apart, and advertising photography, which Flowers considered his main purpose, ‘seemed to be going by the board’. He planned to return to Kericho, after he had been to India, when the weather improved. On Sunday, they were taken by ‘Beegers’ on a tour of the estate, the boss driving a Chevrolet fitted with an altimeter, Kericho being over six thousand feet above sea level.

On 25th April, Adrian photographed tea workers, dressed in yellow oilcloth smocks, as they toiled in the fields. Many of the young women were happy to smile for the camera, but there were some sterner glances from some of the male workers. Groups of women pickers posed for the camera, holding long poles and carrying baskets on their backs. Lines of men carrying portable spray canisters sprayed the crops. Supervised by a white man wearing khaki shorts, a yellow bulldozer cleared forest and scrub to expand the planting area. Flowers photographed another white man, carrying a camera, standing in a field in front of a sign reading ‘Hanza’—a plant used in Africa for making beer, and perhaps part of an experimental programme run by Brooke Bond. Packed into large bales, the harvested tea was hauled to warehouses using Massey Ferguson tractors and trailers, with men sitting on top of the bales. Flowers photographed a convoy of trucks, painted in the Brooke Bond livery of bright red, as they rolled out of the warehouse compound. Young men assembled plywood tea chests, nailing strips of tin onto the corners. Lined with aluminium foil and marked ‘Produce of Kenya’ the chests were then sealed for export. Although the commission does not seem to have included photographs for specific ads, Flowers also photographed boxes of PG Tips and Brooke Bond’s Choicest, in the fields, with workers in the background. . Although he used over fifty rolls of film for ‘library’ work, he did manage to take photographs that could be used in advertising, including one of different coloured tea sacks. 

Flowers wrote down his his impressions of Kenya: “Its nearly on the equator but in spite of that it is temperate because of the rain that falls so often. This is what makes it suitable for tea, although it has been grown here a few years. It is not unlike Ireland except that the grass believe it or not is even greener and thicker. The grass on the lawn here for instance is kept very short, but even so, it is like walking on a cinema carpet. We have already encountered lizards frogs slugs and millipedes, but have yet to meet the big game of which there are still plenty. The African villages are marvellous and well kept. Many Africans wear bright colours. The women of certain tribes walk very gracefully. Adolescent girls and boys wear special clothes before and after their circumcision ceremonies. Many adults have large holes in their ears, but westernisation is creeping up, and many of these are having their holes sewn up again!”

In letters to Angela in London, Flowers describes the local scenery and who they met, but rarely mentions the political situation. In 1963, for plantation employees in Kericho, the work was hard, but by standards of the time in Africa, the pay was not bad. The new Kenyan government was keen to keep companies such as Brooke Bond in operation, tea cultivation being a vital source of revenue for the nation, as well as being a good employer. In 1950, the colonial administration had founded the Tea Board of Kenya, partly to prevent small-scale tea farmers from competing with large producers. But after the brutal suppression of the Mau Mau uprising, more equitable policies were introduced. Dominated by men, the trades unions at Kericho fought effectively on behalf of the plantation employees. Flowers photographed the workers in the fields, but also the processing of tea, which during those years was being increasingly mechanised, particularly after the introduction of the ‘crush, tear, curl’ (CTC) process. 

In some ways 1963 was a golden era in the plantation’s history, with optimism surrounding Kenya’s independence and the benefits of Brooke Bond’s colonial and paternalistic approach to estate management evident. Flowers photographed rows of neat small houses built for workers. There were also schools, medical centres and a hospital. In the 1980’s, Brooke Bond was acquired by Unilever and the Kericho estates became just one asset in a giant multi-national company’s portfolio. In more recent years, with the international price of tea dropping, and mechanised harvesting resulting in workers being laid off or placed on short term contracts, the labour situation at Kericho has become shameful, with allegations of ill-treatment, exploitation and poor housing now rife on the former Brooke Bond estate. Such allegations likely contributed to the decision by Unilever in 2022 to sell the Kericho tea plantation to CVC, a Luxembourg-based investment fund. 

After his visit to Kericho, Flowers met up again with Roy Marsh. Boarding the four seater Cessna, they flew south to Mufindi, in Tanzania, a journey of some five hours, including touching down to refuel at Dodoma: “We went high first of all, above the clouds, put out the trailing aerial to radio Dodoma. Down again to look for elephant, lion, rhino, giraffe, ostrich etc all of which we found even though not easy at this time of the year. I had many attempts at shooting with the Nikon, but it was very difficult, because when flying low the machine is bumping all over the place. Also any point on the ground disappears in an instant. But it was great fun, especially since our excitement gave Roy extra enthusiasm and he really went out of his way for our benefit. It was amusing to know that it was he who was piloting Hemingway when they crashed!” 

A good deal of the countryside below, particularly in Tanzania, was scrubland. Landing on a dusty airstrip at Dodoma, they realised how hot it was. They were regarded with slight interest by locals as they sheltered from the sun under the Cessna wing, drinking coffee from a flask. Landing eventually, and two hours late, at Mufindi, a cool oasis situated at a height of some six thousand feet, they were met by Peter Knight and Richard Hartley. They stayed at Knight’s house for three nights. The weather was misty, and over the following days Flowers tried to take advertising pictures. Their visit was not all work. On the first night Knight brought them to the local club, membership of which consisted of some twenty-five men, mostly English, who managed farms and estates. The club had a bar, library and a room for social meetings and fortnightly film showings. “The following was Saturday and we were asked if we would like to see the films. It was not ‘feature night’, but shorts. Nobody knew what they were going to be, but were determined to enjoy them. We all tanked up (first time incidentally). After a couple of hours we entered the ‘cinema’, sat on awful canvas seats. On came the news, 2 months out of date. ‘Royal Events 1960’ came next, which was priceless, all told from a ‘commonwealth’ point of view. About 6 more, like ‘England is a garden’. Can you imagine it. And there was clapping at the end in honest appreciation.” All the men, Flowers noted, were ‘sporty types’ wearing shorts, and playing golf, tennis and rugger. The women played hockey. On weekends, there were expeditions to Dar (Dar es Salaam) and snorkelling in the warm shallow waters. 

Flowers wondered at how the expatriates got on so well: “I asked them if they suffered domestic differences in such a close community, and was told that because they were so interdependent by force of circumstances they just had to ‘get on’ and in fact did.” The question was not casual. In 1963, Adrian’s wife Angela was not only looking after their young children but also helping out at the studio. Due to Adrian’s illness in 1962, the family had had to leave their house and move to a flat. The studio had not been making money, yet he was determined to keep his staff on. Angela stepped in, to work as his assistant. One of her jobs was to sell surplus photographic equipment, as well as their beloved VW camper van, to raise money to keep the business going. Letters between them, while Flowers was travelling in Africa and India, reveal a growing rift. 

Text: Peter Murray

Editor: Francesca Flowers

All images subject to copyright.

Adrian Flowers Archive ©

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Adrian Flowers Photography Archive

This is Tomorrow

This is Tomorrow 
Aug-Sept 1956  Whitechapel Gallery, London

In 1952, a group began meeting regularly at the ICA in London, to explore ways in which art and architecture could be better integrated into everyday life, and vice versa. Known as “Independent Group” or ‘IG’, these artists, architects and theorists also wanted to look beyond Modernism, and to incorporate new mass media influences, such as advertising, comic books and science fiction, into art. Their ideas were popularised through exhibitions at the ICA, notably the 1953 Parallel of Life and Art, curated by Nigel Henderson, Eduardo Paolozzi, and Alison and Peter Smithson, and Collages and Life, curated the following year by Lawrence Alloway. Having attended several IG meetings, Theo Crosby, an architect born and trained in South Africa, proposed a more ambitious exhibition that would reflect the ideas of the group. In addition to being an architect—his 1956 house at Rutland Grove, Hammersmith, is seen as an early example of the Brutalist movement—Crosby was also an editor and sculptor, working mainly in plaster and mosaic-style coloured glass. Bryan Robertson, Director of the Whitechapel Art Gallery, agreed to host the exhibition. Titled This is Tomorrow, the concept was loosely based on Groupe Espace, an association in France inspired by the Constructivist movement and André Bloc’s journal Art d’aujourd’hui, formed in 1951. At the Whitechapel, along with Germano Facetti and Edward Wright, Crosby brought together members of IG and other artists and architects. In all, thirty-seven creative talents were assembled into twelve teams, each team being asked to devise an installation in which the boundaries between art and architecture would be blurred. Crosby was in Group One, along with Facetti, Wright, and the sculptor William Turnbull.

This is Tomorrow opened at the Whitechapel on 9th August 1956 and ran for just four weeks. In his catalogue introduction, the art writer Lawrence Alloway cited earlier Modernist movements where collaboration, as with Groupe Espace, was seen as the way forward. However as he observed, ‘yesterday’s tomorrow is not today’ and the art of the latter half of the twentieth century was not to be based on a ‘rosy fiction of the middle ages’. Within the competitive environment of post-war capitalist society, Alloway recognised that the artists at Whitechapel were in competition with each other, each seeking to define what the art of the future might be. The poet David Lewis also contributed an introductory essay. Like Crosby, Lewis had moved to Britain after the introduction of apartheid in South Africa, settling in St. Ives where he married the painter Wilhelmina Barns-Graham. In 1955 Adrian Flowers had photographed Lewis and Barns-Graham in St. Ives. But by the following year, their marriage was breaking up, and Lewis was moving to Leeds to study architecture. He also, like Crosby, was full of enterprise and was promoting a speculative Modernist housing project in Huddersfield. 

An innovative work in its own right, the catalogue for This is Tomorrow, designed by Edward Wright and edited by Theo Crosby, documented the teams’ concepts rather than finished results. Each team was asked to submit six pages of material. Richard Hamilton’s collage Just what is it that makes today’s homes so different, so appealing?, created at the home of IG members Magda and Frank Cordell, is probably the contribution best remembered today. Companies, several of whom had sponsored the exhibition, placed advertisements; they included Hille furniture, Wates builders, Crittall windows, ICI Perspex, and plastics firms such as Geon and Styron. Ads were also placed by booksellers and publishers, including Faber and Faber, and Better Books, an alternative bookshop on Charing Cross Road. An artist who worked at Better Books, Anne Buchanan, was also involved in the installation of the exhibition.  

On 6th August, three days before the opening, Adrian Flowers visited the Whitechapel and photographed the installations nearing completion. [AF Archive Job No. 2086]. He was likely there at the invitation of artist Victor Pasmore—at that time Pasmore’s son John was working as an assistant in the Flowers’ studio. Notwithstanding this link, since his own school days at Sherborne, Flowers had been fascinated with advertising imagery in magazines such as Life, and would have delighted in artists Richard Hamilton and John McHale using mass media images in their artworks. Although it would be fifteen years before Angela Flowers opened her own art gallery, she was also with Adrian Flowers at the Whitechapel that day, along with their young son Adam. 

John Pasmore (centre), Adrian Flowers’ assistant at this time.
David Lewis on the left.
Photograph: Adrian Flowers
Adam Flowers, aged 3, in the foreground,
Angela Flowers sitting behind.
Photograph: Adrian Flowers

The sixty photographs taken by Adrian Flowers are for the most part general shots, showing the large gallery spaces being taken over by temporary walls, pavilions, sculptures and paintings. Many images feature Pasmore, but Adrian also documented other areas, including Group 2’s Fun House, one of the more crowd-friendly installations in the exhibition. Fun House was devised by Richard Hamilton, John McHale and architect John Voelcker, the latter creating the frame structure within which artifacts and artworks were displayed. Flowers also photographed the large Op-Art murals, designed by McHale and painted by Magda Cordell. A founder of the ICA, and an originator of the Pop Art movement in Britain, McHale had just returned from a year at the Albers Foundation in the United States. His sketch for a poster with three bold arrows, translated into a screen-print design by Richard Hamilton, conveys the sense of direct, graphic excitement that characterised This is Tomorrow. Adrian also photographed the Op-Art discs, published by Marcel Duchamp as lithographs two decades earlier, and intended for display on record turntables. Reissued in a new edition in 1953 by Enrico Donati, McHale had acquired a set of these Rotoreliefs in New York directly from Duchamp. Several appear in Flowers’ photographs of the Group 2 installation, including Rotorelief No. 12 – Spirale Blanche.

Group 3 comprised three artists represented by the Gimpel Fils Gallery; the abstract painter and furniture designer Jon Catleugh; James Hull, an industrial designer who had worked on murals for the Festival of Britain; and Leslie Thornton, a sculptor from Yorkshire., whose skeletal metal sculptures stood tall in the exhibition spaces. The Group 3 manifesto playfully recorded their love of organised chaos, Eartha Kitt and American cars; and their dislike of dove grey, phone bills and the church. Anthony Jackson and Emilio Scanavino were in Group Four, along with Sarah Jackson, an American-born sculptor whose white abstract plaster sculptures with their writhing forms animated the Whitechapel space. Several Expressionist paintings by Scanavino were suspended from the ceilings.

Photograph above and below showing sculpture by
Leslie Thornton.
Photographs: Adrian Flowers

Group Five comprised Anthony Hill, Denis Williams and John Ernest; Ernest’s tall Constructivist sculptures, constructed of vertical steel rods and horizontal Perspex panels, were being assembled as Flowers took his photos. 

Anthony Hill. Photograph: Adrian Flowers
John Ernest and ? with his work.
Photographs: Adrian Flowers
John Ernest setting up his work. Victor Pasmore constructions on the wall to the left.
Photographs: Adrian Flowers

The Group 6 installation, sub-titled “Patio and Pavilion” was the work of  IG members Peter and Alison Smithson, Eduardo Paolozzi and Nigel Henderson. In the Group 7 installation, free-standing walls, designed by Ernö Goldfinger, were used to display works by Victor Pasmore and Helen Phillips. A drawing by Goldfinger was reproduced in the catalogue, and he also appears in Flowers’ photographs, standing beside Pasmore. Goldfinger’s daughter Liz later worked for Crosby at the magazine AD. 

Victor Pasmore (centre), Ernö Goldfinger beyond.
Photograph: Adrian Flowers

One photograph by Flowers was taken looking through the Group 7 installation into the Group 8 section, that included Richard Matthews, architect/sculptor Michael Pine, and James Stirling. Born in Wolverhampton in 1928, Pine had studied architecture in Birmingham and lived in St. Ives, Cornwall. His organic papier-mache “bubble” sculptures feature in several photographs. In Group 9 were Kenneth and Mary Martin, and John Weeks—the latter taking the diffusing of boundaries idea literally, as he appears also in Group 11. To display the work of the Martins, Weeks designed a modular stand made of free-standing gypsum plaster “Bellrock” panels, arranged in a triangular plan and fastened together at the top, so as to be self-supporting. 

One of the most striking photographs by Flowers is of quirky Modernist corridor in the Group Ten installation. The design of this corridor was the work of Frank Newby, an engineer who worked on the Skylon at the 1951 Festival of Britain, and architects Colin St. John Wilson and Peter Carter, both of whom worked on post-war housing in London. St. John Wilson appears in one photograph, kneeling as he works on the corridor. Visible in the distance is ‘Robbie the Robot’, a figure from Forbidden Planet, a science-fiction film released earlier that year. The official opening of the exhibition was performed by Robbie.

Colin St John Wilson, with ‘Robbie the Robot’ in the background.
Photograph: Adrian Flowers

Group Ten also included work by Robert Adams, a sculptor from Northampton, who features elsewhere in the AF Archive—indeed several of the participants in This is Tomorrowappear elsewhere in the Archive, including Pasmore, John Ernest, Anthony Hill, Kenneth and Mary Martin, and Robert Adams. 

Group Eleven comprised Adrian Heath, a sculptor who had studied at the Slade, and John Weeks, a graduate of the Architectural Association. Two years earlier, Weeks had organised an exhibition at the Building Centre entitled Artist Versus Machine. Together, Heath and Weeks designed a free-standing wall that was built inside the Whitechapel Gallery. Made of standard concrete blocks laid without mortar, it served both as an architectural statement and a Minimalist sculpture. Heath also showed abstract geometric paintings, composed of rectangles and squares. The catalogue pages for Group 12—Geoffrey Holroyd, Toni Del Renzio and Lawrence Alloway—illustrated with Venn diagrams, summed up the themes of This is Tomorrow, and reiterated the idea of promoting collaboration between artist and architect. 

Heavily marketed, featured by Pathé News in cinemas, and with high attendances, This is Tomorrow was a brief and vivid snapshot in time. However the IG group did not survive long; later that year, Crosby set up his own architect’s office, while Peter Carter left to work with Eero Saarinen in the United States; John McHale also moved to the US, and Michael Pine to Canada. David Lewis settled in Pittsburgh, where he was appointed Professor at Carnegie Mellon University. Lawrence Alloway worked as a curator at the Guggenheim in New York, before following McHale to Southern Illinois University, and afterwards taught at SUNY in Stony Brook. Reyner Banham, who contributed an introductory text to the This is Tomorrow catalogue, also moved to the United States, publishing influential books on architecture and urban design, notably his 1971 Los Angeles; The Architecture of Four Ecologies. The term ‘brain drain’ was coined in these years, to describe the migration of talent to North America. Some participants in the exhibition, such as James Stirling and Eduardo Paolozzi, went on to international fame, while others, like John Voelcker, enjoyed intermittent success. In 1958, Voelcker designed a Modernist house near Barnet for jazz musician Humphrey Lyttleton, that featured a Surrealist mural by McHale. Anne Buchanan and Theo Crosby raised a family in Hammersmith, while their friends Peter and Alison Smithson designed controversial Brutalist housing projects. A decade after This is Tomorrow, Adrian Heath played a key role in encouraging Angela Flowers to set up her first gallery. It opened in February 1970, in Lisle Street, on the floor above the headquarters of the Artists Association, of which Heath was chairman. Coincidentally, the following year, an exhibition of Anne Buchanan Crosby’s psycho-mythological paintings took place at the AIA Gallery. In retrospect, the Minimalist abstract artists at the Whitechapel—many of whom feature separately in the Adrian Flowers Archive—remained true to their aesthetic vision, while the artists and architects interested in mass-media enjoyed mixed fortunes in the decades that followed, with many pursuing careers in academic institutions in America.

Text: Peter Murray

Editor: Francesca Flowers

All images subject to copyright.

Adrian Flowers Archive ©

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Portraits

Angela Flowers

Angela Flowers age 19. First photograph of Angela by Adrian Flowers, 1951

Angela Mary Flowers
19th December 1932 – 11th August 2023

The oft-repeated concept, that Angela Flowers was ‘a force of nature’ who had somehow emerged, fully-formed, as a leading contemporary art gallerist, is belied by even a brief glance at her family background. Angela grew up in a world comfortable with international trade, enterprise and culture. On her father’s side, she was descended from a German family named Schwann, who had come to Britain in the early nineteenth century, to run textiles factories in Huddersfield. Somewhere along the way they founded the University of Huddersfield. Not once, but several times during the nineteenth century, the Schwanns married into the Holland family. It was an alliance good for the arts: in 1926 Ismena Schwann married Theodore Holland, a professor at the Royal Academy of Music, who taught Jacqueline du Pré’s mother.

Born Angela Mary Holland, in Croydon on 19th December 1932, Angela was proud of the fact that her great-grandfather, (on her mother’s side) Jesse Worts Ward, had in 1869 founded The Croydon Advertiser. In turn, Ward took pride in his mother’s family, the Bayleys, who built ships at Ipswich; large ocean-going vessels: whalers, East Indiamen, and clippers that brought cargoes of wool from Australia. Angela’s grandmother, Emma Ward, was a talented artist. She married into the Stibys, an old Dorset farming family. When Angela was still in her teens, Arthur Stiby, who had edited The Granta magazine at Cambridge, became editor of the Croydon Advertiser. To the present day, as with Robert, Jamie, and other members of the family, the Stibys sustain a lively presence in the arts.

Painting by Emma Maria Ward, 1893
‘Cox and Grapes’ 1963. Photograph by Adrian Flowers (with Emma Ward painting)

Angela was the eldest of two daughters born to Olive (née Stiby) and Geoffrey Holland. She had a younger sister, Dinah, born in 1937. The previous year, Geoffrey had used an inheritance to commission a large Modernist house “Peverel” at Shellwood Road, Leigh, near Reigate. Listed in Pevsner, it was the first commission in the UK for the architect Frederick Curtis. Although Curtis had been born in Frankfurt-on-Main in 1903, the son of a British architect and a German mother, he fled Germany when the Nazis rose to power, and became a lecturer at Liverpool University. He subsequently designed Underground stations in London, including Perivale and Hangar Lane. Angela remembered Austrian maids in the house when she was a child, and surmised that her father had helped them escape to Britain. Geoffrey’s sister Betty married the French poet and translator Pierre Leyris, and was a friend of Balthus. She appears in several of his paintings.  Although idealists, Angela’s parents were also practical people. During WWII, Olive worked in a munitions factory, while Geoffrey served in Italy as an intelligence officer, and afterwards was a school teacher. 

Adrian Flowers with Adam Flowers. Angela Flowers and sister Dinah Holland.

Peverel, Leigh, near Reigate

During the war, Angela was sent to a boarding school founded by the war artist Eric Kennington. She later attended Westonbirt school in Gloucestershire, which she disliked, and Wychwood in Oxford. There was a spell as an au pair in Paris, followed by a diploma at the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art in South Kensington, London. (Other graduates of the Webber Douglas include Angela Lansbury, Julian Fellowes, Terence Stamp and Steve Berkoff). In the late 1940s, Angela’s parents began to collect works by contemporary artists, including John Minton, John Piper and Denis Mitchell. They introduced her to art at an early age, particularly as a result of visits to Cornwall. Although quite shy, Angela was embarking on a career in stage and screen when, in 1951, having been introduced by Len Deighton, she met and fell in love with the photographer Adrian Flowers. They married soon afterwards and, while living in a flat near Primrose Hill, in 1953 Adam, their first child, was born, followed by Matthew three years later. A third son, Daniel, was born in 1959. In 1956, Angela and Adrian bought a house at Grange Road in Highgate.  

Adam Flowers with Angela Flowers, 1955. Photograph by Adrian Flowers

From there, after Adrian suffered a period of illness, the family moved to a basement flat with use of a garden, in Hamilton Terrace, St John’s Wood. In 1964, with a growing family, Angela and Adrian moved to a house in Patshull Road, Kentish Town. The following year their daughter Francesca was born. Not long afterwards, Angela decided to start her own art gallery. Given her background and determination to succeed, Angela’s only limitation was that she did not have funds at the outset equal to her vision. But living on her wits, and being continually inventive, gave her an edge. Almost her first job was at the Institute for Contemporary Art in London, and it is likely that her familiarity with the artists of St. Ives that led Adrian, at the outset of his career, to document Peter Lanyon, Denis Mitchell and Wilhelmina Barns-Graham in an important series of photographs. Angela recalled that when Adrian was photographing the artists in their studios, they assumed that she also was involved in the world of contemporary art.

Peter Lanyon in his studio in St Ives, 1954 with Angela Flowers.
Photograph by Adrian Flowers

While working as a bookkeeper at the ICA, in 1970, Angela opened her first gallery, at 15 Lisle Street. The receptionist at the ICA had been married to Patrick Hughes, and so Angela invited him to be the first artist to show at her new enterprise. The gallery was in what is now London’s Chinatown, above the offices of Artists International Association, a left-wing association of artists founded in the 1930s. Angela was given the space, on the basis that the lease had not long to run, and also that her artists would become members of AIA. However, the AIA staff disliked Angela and made life difficult for her, particularly when her little upstairs gallery became a commercial success. Early shows such as Tom Phillips sold out. When the AIA wound up in 1971, Angela moved her gallery to Portland Mews.

Angela Flowers outside her second gallery in Portland Mews, D’Arblay Street, London. Photograph by Malcolm Lauder. 1971

From the outset the focus was mainly on younger British artists. In addition to the British artists, international artists also showed at Angela Flowers Gallery: Ray Johnson (American) in 1972, Arakawa (Japanese) and Jeanne Masoero (Italian) in 1971.  In the early years, the artists showing with the gallery included Patrick Hughes, Boyd and Evans, Brendan Neiland, Derek Hirst, Jeff Nuttall, Tom Phillips, Ian Breakwell, John Loker, Jeanne Masoero, Nancy Fouts and David Hepher. Angela was noted for encouraging young artists, and for championing women artists, notably Penny Slinger, Amanda Faulkner, Glenys Barton and Nicola Hicks. Hicks, who married Angela’s son Dan, has been with the gallery for more than thirty years. Penny Slinger’s 1973 exhibition was titled “Openings”; the works relating to the theme of food, mouths and vaginas. Exhibition themes such as Small is BeautifulPostcard Art, and Artist of the Day—the latter set up in 1983—helped establish Angela Flowers as a leading contemporary art gallery in London. Later artists joining the gallery included Bernard Cohen, John Kirby and Peter Howson. Angela herself cut a dash, whizzing around town in a dark red Chevrolet Impala. 

Angela Flowers with gallery artists in 1970.
Photograph by Adrian Flowers

The Angela Flowers Gallery in London thrived, as did Adrian’s photography studio, but the strains placed on their marriage resulted in its dissolution, and in 1973 they divorced. Five years later, the gallery moved to Tottenham Mews. Angela’s new partner, Robert Heller, and the theatre impresario Michael White brought their business acumen to bear on the gallery, which became profitable in 1987. The following year, a second Angela Flowers Gallery, housed in a large former warehouse space, opened at Richmond Road in Hackney. The inaugural exhibition featured works by Lucian Freud and Eduardo Paolozzi. Angela’s son Matthew became Managing Director in 1989, and over the ensuing decades, galleries bearing the name Flowers were opened in Los Angeles (1998), New York (2003) and Hong Kong (2020) In 2002, Matthew oversaw the move from Hackney to one of London’s largest contemporary gallery spaces, Flowers, at Kingsland Road in ShoreditchAfter some thirty years together, Angela and Bob Heller were married in 2003, at Islington Town Hall. Bob died in 2012.

As early as 1959, Angela and Adrian Flowers had bought an old cottage, set on a hillside overlooking the sea, in the coastal village of Rosscarbery, in West Cork, Ireland. Initially, it was a holiday home, but given Angela’s irrepressible and enterprising personality, soon it was being enlarged and renovated, and she began hosting summer exhibitions of contemporary art in a space beside the cottage. This gradually developed, until by the 1990s, in a new purpose-built gallery space, the Angela Flowers Rosscarbery weekends became a fixture in the London art world, attracting critics, artists, and collectors to Ireland. Among the artists featured at exhibition were William Crozier, Anthony Daley, Ian Breakwell, Lucy Jones, John Kirby, Terry Frost, Nicola Hicks, Patrick Hughes, Tai Shan Schierenberg and Boyd and Evans. Andrew Logan exhibited his outdoor Pegasus sculptures in the top field at Downeen in 1991. John Kirby and Ian Breakwell were both inspired to buy cottages on the same road as Downeen.

Downeen, Rosscarbery, in late 60s. Photograph by Adrian Flowers

Throughout her life, interwoven with Angela’s love of art was a passionate devotion to music, ceramics, fashion, poetry and design—part of her legacy to her children, Adam, Matthew, Daniel, Francesca and Rachel—the latter now a celebrated painter in her own right. Although described as a force of nature, Angela could be reticent, even shy, living for others and through others, often denying her own talents. She was a meticulous planner, looking forward to birthdays, dinners, vernissages, and other celebrations with joy. Such energy, and a restless spirit, sustained her to the end. In 2022, the year before she died, Angela was guest of honour at an exhibition in West Cork of photographs taken by Adrian Flowers in St. Ives in the late 1950s. Approaching her ninetieth year, she was intrigued and delighted to see her younger self in several photographs, along with Peter Lanyon and Ben Nicholson. The exhibition was held in the Adrian Flowers Archive, now located at Ballydehob, not far from Angela’s beloved gallery and home at Rosscarbery. The last exhibition held at Rosscarbery featured works from Angela’s own personal collection of paintings. Based on the theme of snow, it included works by Jack Smith, Henry Kondracki, Tai Shan Schierenberg and other leading artists.

In 1994, Angela was made a fellow of the Royal College of Art, and five years later was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of East London. She and her daughter Rachel moved from their Modernist home “Jordleys”, at Goring upon Thames, in 2014 to the seaside town of Ramsgate in 2014, where several family members lived, and with characteristic brio painted her house bright Mondrian yellow. This was partly in celebration of Vincent Van Gogh, who resided in the town in 1876. She died at Ramsgate, on 11 August 2023. 

Angela Flowers wearing Zandra Rhodes cape. Photograph by Adrian Flowers

Text: Peter Murray

Editor: Francesca Flowers

All images subject to copyright.

Adrian Flowers Archive ©

https://www.flowersgallery.com/usr/library/documents/main/angela-flowers-1932-2023-amended.pdf

Obituaries

https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2023/aug/14/angela-flowers-obituary

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/obituaries/2023/08/13/angela-flowers-gallery-contemporary-art-obituary/

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/angela-flowers-obituary-vmndh3cfh

https://www.artnews.com/art-news/news/angela-flowers-british-gallerist-dead-1234677006/

https://www.theartnewspaper.com/2023/08/14/angela-flowers-has-died-aged-90

Guardian Profile

https://www.theguardian.com/books/1999/apr/03/books.guardianreview3

How we met: Angela Flowers and Andrew Logan

https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/how-we-met-angela-flowers-and-andrew-logan-1367552.html

Further information:

www.flowersgallery.com

Categories
Assistants at Adrian Flowers Studio Photographers

Neil Selkirk

In late November 2022, we visited the photographer Neil Selkirk in his house and studio, a stone’s throw from the David Zwirner Gallery on W.19th Street. Opening a little iron gate with a latch, we descended three steps from street level, to an oak door. Selkirk greeted us and led us through a little courtyard to his home at the rear of the building.

Inside, a lit wood-burning stove added a warm glow to the arts and crafts interior, with its dark roof beams and wooden kitchen presses. On a large wooden table, a scattering of autumn leaves and branches made a colourful display. Mounted on the wall, an ornate silver tray bore an engraved testimonial to a Selkirk forebear from the congregation of a Free Presbyterian Church in Glasgow. Even after decades of living and working in the United States, Selkirk, a cheerful conversationalist, retained his English accent. As he prepared coffee, he described his years in New York, his pride in his two children, now grown adults and working in the city, evident. Although divorced from his wife Susan, he radiated confidence and a contentment with life. “I’ve been lucky”, he commented, although this underestimates his achievements gained through skill, hard work and dedication to photography. He made coffee with the same attention to detail as though he were in a photo lab, grinding the coffee beans, and carefully preparing the steamer for warming milk.

Selkirk’s own photographs have featured in Esquire, The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, Interview and Vanity Fair. For over a decade he also worked in the corporate world, taking photographs for annual reports. His exhibition of portraits Certain Women was held at the Howard Greenberg Gallery in 2015. At the time of our visit, he was working on a series of close-up still life photos of bar-room toilet door locks entitled Security Matters. Printed in a large scale, several of these decorated the walls of his studio in the basement of the building. It was formerly a fully-fledged darkroom, complete with water filters and sinks, but no longer used for darkroom printing. 

Best-known in the art world for his work printing the photographs of Diane Arbus since her death, Selkirk was born in London in 1947. After initial studies at Chiswick Polytechnic, he graduated from the London College of Printing, and aged twenty-one, embarked on a life-long career as a photographer. From the outset, he demonstrated a deep understanding of the science of the process; developing and fixing film, and utilising advanced printing techniques. Keen to work with the best photographers, even as a student he travelled to France and the United States. In March 1968 he was in New York, visiting the studios of leading photographers and offering his services as an assistant. This direct approach worked, and he was offered work, not only by Richard Avedon, but also by Irving Penn, Melvin Sokolsky and Bert Stern. Fortuitously, Selkirk even found himself on 40th Street, photographing Bobby Kennedy outside the New York Press Club just after he announced his candidacy for president. Although he accepted a job offer from Penn, it transpired the studio was unable to obtain a work visa for him. In the meantime, Avedon had been asked by an English advertising agency to work on a cigarette campaign and came to London, where Selkirk worked for him as an assistant.

When Selkirk realised that getting a visa to work in the US was not going to be straightforward, he sought employment in London, and was taken on by Adrian Flowers, [on 9 September 1968] at his studio in Tite Street. In a recent interview with Elizabeth Avedon (former daughter-in-law of Richard) Selkirk recalled his time there; affirming how Flowers was ‘a big name’ in the London photography scene from the 1950’s through to the early 90’s. Flowers’ studio was ‘the place to be photographed’ for advertising and editorials, and for actors, celebrities and artists.

While working at Tite Street in 1968 and the following year, Selkirk assisted Flowers with a number of advertising jobs, including trips to France and Italy, and photographing products, even Christmas puddings. He explained how photographs taken in London were sent to New York, to be converted into dye-transfer prints, an expensive and technologically advanced method that gave high-quality reproductions for magazine advertisements. At that time there was no dye-transfer lab in London. On one occasion, when a large 15 x 12 inch duplicate transparency, made from a standard 35mm negative, was sent back to the studio, Neil was so impressed, he immediately went in search of a large-format camera capable of making large negatives. At Brunnings, the photography shop in Holborn, he found two such cameras, dating from at least the 1920’s. He bought both cameras, and still has them.

25.9.68 for the Observer magazine.
Photograph by Adrian Flowers

Selkirk recalled his time working with Flowers in London with delight and occasional chagrin. One time, the leg of a heavy tripod had unexpectedly slid down and injured his foot. In spite of the pain, and the wound taking a long time to heal, he continued to work, standing behind Adrian, ready to hand over film and equipment as needed. However, Adrian had a habit of stepping backwards when he was working and did so several times, stepping on Selkirk’s injured toe. He looked back in surprise to see his assistant bent over in agony. Selkirk laughed as he recalled this. But even at the Flowers studio, he was ambitious to move on and establish his own career. Through Avedon, he was offered a short-term contract in Paris, to assist Japanese photographer Hiro (Yasuhiro Wakabayashi). A decade earlier, Hiro had himself been an assistant to Avedon. Selkirk requested leave of absence from Tite Street, to work on this project with Hiro. Flowers responded “And what if I say no?”. “In that case”, Selkirk cheerfully replied “I’ll quit”. But Flowers relented and let him go. Back in London, Selkirk, who now admits that he must have been insufferable at the time, describes Flowers addressing him in quiet desperation “I know you’ve worked with the most famous photographers in the world, but would you mind passing the film holder”. In stories such as this, Selkirk revealed a self-awareness and self-deprecating sense of humour. “I’m sure I was impossible”, he acknowledges.

The shoots he worked on included trips to Malmaison, outside Paris, and to the Medici palazzos in Florence; both for the Observer magazine. Also for the Observer Selkirk accompanied Flowers to Bonn and Vienna to assist on the Beethoven feature [see previous blog post on this site].

Beethoven’s last piano,
photographed by Adrian Flowers in Bonn, Nov. 1969 for the Observer magazine

Selkirk also worked on several of the early Benson & Hedges ads, the ‘Gold Box’ years.

1968 B&H for
Collett Dickenson Pearce (CDP)
Photography: Adrian Flowers

Another memorable job was for the book cover of Len Deighton’s An Expensive Place to Die, art directed by Ray Hawkey [see previous blog posts on Deighton and Hawkey]

JN6102 September 1968 Book cover for An Expensive Place to Die by Len Deighton.
Photograph by Adrian Flowers

However, in London, Selkirk was earning just two pounds and ten shillings a week as an assistant at the Flowers studio and knew he had to move on. Working at Hiro’s studio in 1970 and ‘71 had led to further opportunities; while there, he met Diane Arbus and her friend and collaborator Marvin Israel. Arbus invited Selkirk to participate in a master class she was giving. He was more than just a student; at that time Arbus was looking to move on from working in the 2¼ square format, and was researching larger format cameras. Hiro had been using one of the first Pentax 6 x 7 cameras, which took the 120 film Arbus was experienced with, but produced larger images. Familiar with this camera, Selkirk showed her how to use it. After working at Hiro’s until July of that year, he then went to work for fashion photographer Chris Von Wangenheim. This brought him back to Europe, to Rome and Paris. While in Paris, he learned of the death of Arbus, and wrote a letter of commiseration to Marvin Israel. He also offered his services, should a book or exhibition be organised in the future.

Back in New York, Selkirk immediately was put to work by Marvin Israel, working on the forthcoming Arbus exhibition to be shown at MoMA, and on the monograph “Diane Arbus”. He jumped at the opportunity, however he was faced with an intimidating task: Arbus had never labelled or dated her prints. Selkirk was baffled as to how she found a negative. She evidently had a system, but only she knew where things were. Selkirk’s work making prints for the 1972 book and show were intended to be a one-time project, but evolved over the years into his being the only person ever authorized by the estate to make prints from Arbus’s negatives.

For many years now, Selkirk has worked with Doon, eldest daughter of Diane Arbus, who manages her mother’s estate. They periodically are involved in organising exhibitions such as the recent one, entitled “Cataclysm” at the David Zwirner Gallery, that reprised the 1972 MoMA show. The accompanying publication, Diane Arbus Documents a massive tome of several hundred pages, contains Fifty years or more of reviews and essays by Susan Sontag and others, along with an extensive bibliography. It is co-published by Zwirner and the Fraenkel Gallery, with David’s son Lucas guiding it through many stages of development. Doon is also a writer, and in addition to producing books of her mother’s work, has collaborated with Richard Avedon on many projects, including The Sixties, and has recently published her first novel, The Caretaker.

There was a pause in the conversation as Selkirk put a log in the wood-burning stove that added a bright touch and warmed the apartment. Beside the stove was a stack of split wood logs. “The difficulty”, said Neil, “is getting the logs all the way from my place in upstate New York to this room, they’re so heavy!”

In his last years at the old mill – the moulin, in France, Adrian Flowers would often photograph logs from the wood stack. He would set them up in rows outside the barn. Lit by the evening sun, each log acquired its own personality. The photographs were like distant memories of the actors, artists and celebrities who had visited the studio at Tite Street half a century before.

Adrian Flowers Studio, Tite St, London Jan. 1969

Neil Selkirk website: neilselkirk.com

Text: Peter Murray

Editor: Francesca Flowers

All images subject to copyright.

Adrian Flowers Archive ©

Categories
Musicians

SORE THROAT

Sore Throat in 1979, photo shoot for ‘7th Heaven’ single cover.
Photograph by Adrian Flowers at his studio in Tite Street.
l-r: Matt Flowers, Reid Savage, Justin Ward, Clive Kirby, Greg Mason, Dan Flowers.

Founded in Kentish Town in 1975, Sore Throat was one of the most ambitious bands to emerge in London during the heyday of punk and new wave music. Active between 1976 and 1981, the band played over four hundred gigs, as well as releasing seven singles and one album, Sooner than you Think. Their singles included the 1978 I Dunno, released on Hubcap Records, the cover featuring a witty banana design by artist Patrick Hughes, with the track Complex on the double A side. Another single, Zombie Rock, appeared that same year, under the Albion label: “Things used to be so peaceful in the graveyard/Things were pretty dead of a night/The closest we would come to having any fun/was when the gravedigger died of fright.” This single also featured the rock-n-roll I Don’t Wanna go Home. The band performed Zombie Rock on the ITV television programme Revolver, compered by Peter Cook. The accompanying film, featuring ghouls digging their way out of graves, had in fact been the inspiration for the song. The single Kam-i-kaz-e Kid came out the following year, the cover featuring Robert Wiles’ photograph of Evelyn McHale, a young woman who jumped from the Empire State Building in 1947, landing on the roof of a car. With Crackdown on the B side, the single’s release was accompanied by full-page ads in New Musical Express. Not long after, 7th Heaven came out on the Hurricane label, with Off the Hook on the B side, while Flak Jacket, on the Fast Buck label, appeared in 1980. Diggin a Dream, produced by Laurie Latham, came out that same year, paired with Stocker Stomp. A final single, Bank Raid, with Seven Weeks on the B side, went on sale in 1981, on the Sea Food label.

Sore Throat July 1976: from top left, Reid Savage, Robin Knapp, Greg Mason,
Matthew Flowers, Justin Ward, Dan Flowers
photographed by Adrian Flowers at his studio in Tite Street

Two of Adrian Flowers’ teenage sons were prominent in Sore Throat; Matthew on keyboards, and Dan on bass guitar. Sore Throat had evolved from earlier ensembles that Matt and Dan—along with school friend Ollie Marland—had set up at their school, William Ellis, in the early 1970’s. These were variously named The Moggers, The Blades, and The New Blades. Guitarist Reid Savage, Dan Flowers and saxophonist Greg Mason met at this progressive school in Highgate, where Marland formed a band called Landslide. With another Elysian, Clive Kirby, on drums, Landslide played at the Windsor festival in 1974. Marland later went on to work with Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics and eventually with Tina Turner and Cher, while Kirby was to join the up-and-coming Sore Throat. An early gig, under the name Jam, took place at St. Anthony’s School in Hampstead, in October 1974. More name changes followed, including Juice, before the band members settled on Sore Throat (not to be confused with a later grindcore band of that name in the late 1980’s). Over the years, musicians came and went, including singer/songwriter Justin Ward, Savage and Mason, the latter playing later on with Adam and the Ants. Mark Burton was the drummer, although he left early in 1976, with Robin Knapp taking over on drums.

Sore Throat playing at Blackheath 3.7.76. Photograph by Adrian Flowers

On February 27th 1976, Sore Throat played at Hampstead Town Hall on Haverstock Hill, supported by Razor Backs. Included in the set were the numbers Washout Stomp, Sunshine Blues and Puddles of Perfume. On July 3rd, at the invitation of John Pasmore (son of artist Victor Pasmore) they featured at an open air gig at Blackheath, and from August onwards began a series of regular Monday nights at the “Pindar of Wakefield” (now The Water Rats) at King’s Cross, the venue where Bob Dylan had played his first English gig. This residency continued through to November 1977. In May of that year, the band invited The Slits on stage at the Pindar for one of their first performances. Several gigs at the Pindar were photographed live by Adrian Flowers, who also photographed the band members at the Blackheath concert, and at his studio in Tite Street.

Sore Throat playing at the Pindar of Wakefield in 1977. Photograph by Adrian Flowers

Tours throughout the UK followed, including a night at the Marquee Club, where, in addition to the Flowers brothers, the line-up included Ward, Mason, Savage, with Knapp (aka Knockerapp) on drums. On June 3rd 1978, writing in the New Musical Express, Neil Peter reviewed a gig at the Nashville Room :

Sore Throat’s music completely defies categorisation; it’s a weird synthesis of just about everything from ’50s rock ’n’ roll to jazz and more besides, rounded off with a very English eccentricity. They’re as diverting visually as they are musically, too. Ward is the star of the show, either the subject of violent convulsions or performing minor acrobatics throughout the set, but barely less striking is Matt Flowers, who stands well over six feet and occasionally leaves his keyboards to do some absurd dances or strangle Reid Savage, who doesn’t move too much but performs some comic, quasi-Robin Trowers facial contortions, while the monolithic Dan Flowers does Boris Karloff impersonations in the corner.

The band also performed regularly at the Stapleton in Stroud Green, and in 1978 supported Deaf School on a tour of eighteen venues. In turn, Sore Throat was supported by other up-and-coming bands including Adam & the Ants, Bad Manners and The Members. In 1978, supported by the talented but short-lived Blazer Blazer, Sore Throat played at the Music Machine (now Koko) on Camden High Street; other bands playing there at the time included The Dickies and The Clash. On 2nd April that year, writing in the German magazine Sounds, André Klasenberg gave a vivid account of a Sore Throat gig in Camden Town:

Clichés fail me – unknowns or not, Sore Throat provided some of the best live music I’ve heard this year at the infamous Music Machine last Tuesday night. Their hour long set was like all gigs should be but usually aren’t, an hour-long dazzling display of instrumental mastery, superb songs with lyrics that linger, backed up by amazing visuals to rival those of Split Enz and Deaf School (of course, they backed them on their last tour). This sextet from sunny Camden Town clearly owe a lot to bands like that, but they’re totally and uncompromisingly original in the way they do things. . . Manic jerky movements abound when they’re on stage, but so well arranged that you know they practise a hell of a lot. They’re sartorially smooth in dyed waiters’ jackets, with the cropped hair that seems de rigeur nowadays. Musical style changes with each song, one minute they’re Buddy Holly and the Crickets, the next Kilburn and the High Roads.
Sublime solos come thick and fast from sax, guitar, keyboard, you name it, and the vocal harmonising wouldn’t disgrace a Jan and Dean disc. Mr. Savage comes out with jangly block chords, so clear and piercing as to put Television’s Tom Verlaine to shame. Justin’s voice is ideally suited to the songs, all originals of course, with the exception of the encore ‘Shakin’ All Over’, which it later turned out was a first time for them; you’d never have known.

Matt Flowers is a 6ft 6ins vision of synchronised epilepsy – besides being imaginative and aggressive on keyboards he’d make a great singer if he didn’t keep falling off the stage. Controlled lunacy is clearly the name of the game. Every entertaining stage move you’ve ever seen, from the Shadows’ feet together swing to statuesque left/right turns to Family’s Roger Chapman spider on speed, appears sooner or later.

The following year, Sore Throat invited two relatively unknown bands, The Snivelling Shits and another Camden band, Morris and the Minors, to support them at The Music Machine. The night of the gig, February 22nd 1979, Morris and the Minors changed their name to Madness.

back cover of Sore Throat’s single ‘7th Heaven’, photograph by Adrian Flowers in his studio at Tite St, 1979

By that time, Robin Knapp had left, to be replaced by Clive Kirby, the drummer from Landslide. Soon afterwards, Sore Throat signed with Hurricane Records, then run by Phil Presky and distributed by Warner. Pete Shelley of The Buzzcocks witnessed the signing of the contract. Produced by Neil Harrison, the band’s first, and only album, Sooner than you Think, came out soon after. Recorded at Abbey Road Studios, it was released on the Hurricane label, with a cover designed by artist duo Boyd & Evans. The tracks included Wonder Drug, 7th Heaven, Flak Jacket, Routine Patrol, British Subject, Mr Right, Off the Hook, Crackdown and Sooner than you Think. Promoting the album, an ‘Eiffel Tour’ took in Manchester University, High Wycombe Town Hall, Burton-on-Trent’s 76 Club, East Redford, Leeds Fan Club and “The Underworld” in Birmingham. With Graeme Cooper as road manager, Sore Throat also toured in Europe, taking in Ireland, Holland, Austria and Switzerland on their travels. In Holland, in 1980, they played at Paradiso in Amsterdam, the Brak at Venray, and also the Groningen Festival.

On the BBC television weekly The Old Grey Whistle Test in January 1980, Sore Throat performed Wonderdrug and Off the Hook: “Save your money for a rainy day and buy yourself a new Rolls Royce.” With Greg and Matt resplendent in blue lamé jackets, presenter Annie Nightingale expressed surprise that a band so good was not better known. She noted that Sore Throat had been in existence for five years, and had released their first album the previous autumn. The band were at their best that night, with Justin Ward playing the Whistle Test theme tune on harmonica. Greg Mason was on saxophone, Reid Savage on guitar and Clive Kirby on drums, while Dan played bass guitar and Matt keyboards. However, behind the scenes, all was not well and that same night Justin Ward abruptly departed the band, causing a tour to be cancelled and further album deals to be put on hold. Sore Throat continued on, with Matt and Dan sharing the singing roles. Their successful single Diggin’ a Dream was released in April 1980. In August of that year drummer Clive Kirby left, to be replaced by Nick Pepper, with guitarist singer/songwriter Conrad Warre also joining the band. Both Warre and Pepper had previously been in One Hand Clapping.

Sore Throat in 1981, press shot for single ‘Bank Raid’. From top and l-r: Greg Mason, Matt Flowers, Dan Flowers, Conrad Warre and Nick Pepper.
Photograph by Adrian Flowers.

Through these intensive years of performance and recording, Sore Throat’s music had evolved from punk/new wave into a more complex reggae/jazz fusion sound. However, they only issued one more single, Bank Raid, in June 1981. A third Flowers brother, Adam, occasionally played saxophone with the band. But with Conrad Warre increasingly dissatisfied with business arrangements, and with the departure of Reid Savage, the band’s final gig was held at the Greyhound in October 1981. Matt and Dan continued to perform as a rock duo, under the name Mattandan. Matt went on to play keyboards with Blue Zoo, appearing twice on Top of the Pops and their “Cry Boy Cry” was in the charts for eight weeks.

A reunion of sorts three decades later, with Dan Flowers, Greg Mason, Reid Savage and journalist Neil McCormick, re-branding themselves as Groovy Dad, took place in 2011. One of their gigs was at the Flowers Gallery, now being run by Matt.

Matt Flowers playing keyboards at Sore Throat gig at Hampstead Town Hall 27.2.76.
Photograph by Adrian Flowers

Text: Peter Murray

Editor: Francesca Flowers

All images subject to copyright.

Adrian Flowers Archive ©

Categories
Artists Portraits

Robert Adams

Robert Adams in his studio 26.9.55. Photograph by Adrian Flowers

During the 1950’s and 60’s Adrian Flowers photographed the painter and sculptor Robert Adams on several occasions. One photo, taken around 1955 [AF 1750], shows Adams in his studio in London, sitting casually on a high stool made of welded metal, poring over a sketchbook on a drawing table. The form and construction of the stool suggests it was made by the artist. On a shelf are several of Adams’ sculptures. One, a small bronze work, part of the Growing Form series, dates from around 1953. Another relates to the ‘Penwith Forms’ series, and dates from 1955. Adams has dressed elegantly for the occasion of Flowers’ visit, and is wearing a white shirt and cravat. Behind the artist are rolls of drawings, cleverly suspended in loops of string. The drawing table is a fold-out affair, part of a room divider that also contains bookshelves. A large abstract painting can be glimpsed in the background. Another photograph taken on that same visit shows Adams working on a tall wooden sculpture. The sculpture stands on a workbench in the same studio, with its white-painted brick walls and overhead girders. On the walls are T-squares, a brace, saws and loops of wire. A third photograph shows Adams, his wife Patricia and their dog Tishy, surrounded by sculptures, including a welded metal piece from c. 1950, one of an abstract series inspired by drawings of dancers.

Robert Adams in his studio September 1955. Photograph by Adrian Flowers
Robert Adams in his studio with his wife Patricia and their dog Tishy.
Photograph by Adrian Flowers

Several years later, around 1960 [AF 3376], Flowers photographed Adams in a park, with houses in the background [perhaps Hampstead Heath?], standing beside a large sculpture, made of straight lengths of metal rod welded together. This work is likely Triangulated structure No. 1, its form evoking the facets of a crystalline rock formation. Another set of photographs [AF 4217, 3376] taken around 1961, show Adams standing in his studio, surrounded by tall welded-metal sculptures. By this date, the artist’s work has evolved, and his now making tall free-standing and wall-mounted abstract pieces, in which circular plate-like forms are counterpoised with slender vertical and horizontal rods and bars. Adams also appears more confident in this set of photographs, smiling, relaxed, leaning against the wall. Another set of negatives [AF 2576] are of Adams’ carved wood sculptures set on plinths, and wall-mounted reliefs, displayed within a classical house setting. The sculptures on plinths are paired forms, evoking the streamlined wings and fuselages of aeroplanes.

Robert Adams with his work, Triangulated Structure No. 1, 1961.
Photograph by Adrian Flowers

Adams had a good grounding in the technical aspects of sculpture. Having left school in Northampton aged fourteen, he worked for a local firm that manufactured agricultural machinery. From 1937 to 1946 he attended life drawing and painting classes at Northampton School of Art, and during WWII was a fire warden in Civil Defence. He first showed his work in a series of exhibitions held at the Cooling Gallery in London, along with other artist members of Civil Defence. In the post-war years he turned firstly to abstract painting, then sculpture, working mainly in wood, slate, plaster and stone. Although he remained a resolutely abstract artist, in Adams’ work there is always an underlying regard for the world of nature, and for plant and human forms. In 1949 he began to work in metal and for a decade after, in addition to making his own work, taught at the Central School of Art in London. He was influenced by, and became part of, the London Group of constructionist artists that included Adrian Heath, Anthony Hill, Victor Pasmore and Kenneth and Mary Martin. In 1947 Adams was included in the inaugural exhibition of Living Art, held in Dublin, as well as having the first of a series of exhibitions with Gimpel Fils in London. Shortly afterwards he travelled to Paris where he encountered the work of Brancusi and Julio Gonzalez. In 1949 he showed at Galerie Jeanne Bucher in Paris, the Redfern Gallery in London, and, the following year, at the Passedoit Gallery in New York. In 1951 he was invited to exhibit at the Sao Paulo Biennial and the following year was included with the group of young British sculptors in the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale whose work, using innovative techniques and breaking with traditional approaches to realist sculpture, led Herbert Read to coin the term Geometry of Fear.


In 1955 Adams had an exhibition at the Victor Waddington Gallery in Dublin, and also showed at Rutgers University that same year. Included in the Whitechapel Gallery’s influential 1956 exhibition This is Tomorrow, he was a frequent visitor to St. Ives, where he met Michael Snow, and in 1975 became a member of the Penwith Society. In 1962 a retrospective of his work was held at the Venice Biennale; another retrospective took place at the Campden Academy in Northampton in 1971, followed by one at Liverpool Tate in 1982. Adams was commissioned to make several public sculptures, including, in 1973, a large steel work for Kingswell in Hampstead. Beginning in the 1960’s, he also produced lithographs with abstract geometric designs, such as Screen II. His work has been catalogued by Alistair Grieve, in Robert Adams 1917-1984: A Sculptor’s Record (Tate Gallery 1992) and The Sculpture of Robert Adams (Lund Humphries 1992).

Robert Adams’ work featured in the 2022 exhibition at the Barbican Gallery, Postwar Modern: New Art in Britain 1945-1965.

Robert Adams, early 1962. Photograph by Adrian Flowers

Text: Peter Murray

Editor: Francesca Flowers

All images subject to copyright.

Adrian Flowers Archive ©

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Advertising Agencies

Adrian Flowers and CDP

Benson & Hedges ‘Flying Ducks’ for CDP 1978. Photography Adrian Flowers

From ‘Inside Collett Dickenson Pearce‘:

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is P1040275.jpg
‘Inside Collett Dickenson Pearce‘ by John Salmon and John Ritchie

Before electronic retouching made the impossible easy

reflections by Adrian Flowers

The Flying Ducks and the Hotel Corridor were examples of successes which posed interesting problems. The distorted perspective of the ‘Ducks’ picture was built into the set and the oval, which is apparently a mirror that reflects the packs as ducks, was in fact an oval aperture through which the ducks and background could be seen. (It was long before electronic retouching made such model making techniques superfluous).

Graham Watson had asked me if I could make the gold boxes look like they were flying. ‘Of course’ said I. The model maker made them into parallelogram versions in three sizes for increased perspective and mounted them on the wall with double-sided Sellotape. They fell off and broke and had to be re-made, but finally the illusion worked perfectly.

Benson & Hedges ‘Hotel Corridor’ for CDP 1978. Photography Adrian Flowers

The ‘Hotel’ picture called for a long corridor that looked ‘real’ and was affordable. It was not easy to find. Eventually Graham Watson and I settled for the National Liberal Club building which had a top floor with bedrooms for young people who could not afford to pay much.

Instead of a fee we redecorated and carpeted the corridor. We had to shoot at night in order to have full control over the lighting. The exposures were between 20 and 30 minutes. We knew that most of the rooms were occupied but what we hadn’t bargained for the endless movement from room to room throughout the night. They were lovers or poker players and they incessantly moved diagonally across the corridor from door to door.
I knew that with our long exposures the flitting figures would not register as long as they didn’t start posing in doorways. However, for one reason or another, the shoot went on for a week. The mirrors we had erected were awkward and potentially dangerous obstacles for the occupants. It was extremely hot in the corridor and structures built to support lights and projectors made of new wood dried out and the joints collapsed on more than one occasion.
But eventually we got the shot.
These sort of hard-won images involve a total mind-set, where money, other activities, other clients, family, etc become secondary.
Afterwards though, the personal satisfaction is really something.

Text: Adrian Flowers

All images subject to copyright.

Adrian Flowers Archive ©

Categories
Advertising Agencies

Collett Dickenson Pearce (CDP)

Advertisement for Silk Cut King Size, JN 7192, a/d Richard Dearing at CDP 12.6.72
Photography Adrian Flowers

Beginning in April 1960, when John Collett’s firm was acquired by Ronnie Dickenson and John Pearce, their new advertising agency CDP (Collett Dickenson Pearce) grew rapidly, so much so that within a decade it had become one of the most successful in the world, rivalling the best of Madison Avenue. Witty, sharp, and with an adventurous use of images and fonts, CDP proved an exciting new addition to a British advertising scene that had become staid during the 1950’s. Sharing a background in publishing (both had worked for Hulton Press), Pearce and Dickenson were alive to new possibilities in advertising. The winds of change, coming mainly from America, were epitomised in the work of DDB [Doyle Dane Bernbach] and summed up in David Ogilvy’s irreverent but insightful book Confessions of an Advertising Man. Initially occupying offices near Tottenham Court Road, under the creative directorship of Yorkshireman Colin Millward, CDP threw itself with gusto into campaigns for billboards and the new colour supplements published by The Observer and The Sunday Times. This was later accompanied by a string of award-winning television commercials. Typical was the 1964 ad “What the Duchess Saw”, made for Whitbread Pale Ale at a time when tolerance of class distinctions and social inequities was at a low ebb, and British middle-class consumer society was on the rise. The agency’s taglines were to become everyday phrases; ‘Happiness is a cigar called Hamlet’, Fiats were ‘handbuilt by robots’ while Heineken ‘refreshes the parts other beers cannot reach.’ Richard Foster and John Horton devised campaigns for Parker pen, while Ron Collins was responsible for the ‘We knew how before you-know-who’ for Rawlings Tonic Water. In 1969 Millward began to look after CDP’s international work while John Salmon took over as creative director in London. Three years later, account director Frank Lowe replaced John Pearce as managing director. Following the example of DDB, art directors and copywriters at CDP were united into teams. Alan Parker and Ross Cramer led teams that included Alan Waldie, Paul Windsor and others. The client list grew rapidly, with Ford, Bird’s Eye, Land Rover, Harvey’s Bristol Cream, Parker pens, Fiat, Pretty Polly and Ronson all seeking the firm’s magic touch. Such was the level of self-confidence, if a client rejected a concept, it might well be the client who was shown the door. John Pearce, himself a heavy smoker, characterised the firm’s initial clients as ‘fags, fashion and booze’. Seeing the “What the Duchess Saw” ad induced David Puttnam to apply for a job at CDP; he worked there for five years, and compared it to a top university education: “with good reason I believed I was working for the best agency in the world. Most of the work we were doing was both different and good; and we were winning awards and gaining recognition left, right and centre.” Among the actors who appeared in CDP commercials were Joan Collins, Leonard Rossiter, Alan Whicker, Spike Milligan, Peter Sellers, Sid James and Jean Shrimpton. Puttnam and other executives at CDP worked with copywriters, art directors and photographers. Among the former, Tony Brignull and Neil Godfrey, specialising in poster and press work, were regularly feted at the annual Design & Art Directors (D&AD) award ceremonies, while among the latter, photographer Adrian Flowers regularly featured prominently. With talents such as Mike Everett, and tv commercials for Heineken, Hovis and Cinzano being directed by Ridley Scott and Alan Parker, the ads created by CDP were, and are, consistently rated among the best ever made. The creative teams cheerfully hi-jacked Surrealism and other art movements, employing them in the pursuit of pure capitalist gains.

Much of the firm’s success was due to the adroit boardroom skills of John Spearman, who, although he grew up in Dublin, is from a family with strong West Cork connections. After graduating from TCD, Spearman worked for Lintas, the in-house advertising firm at Unilever, before joining CDP in 1972. Account director for the 1977-78 EMI “Diana Ross and the Supremes” ad that won several television awards, Spearman remained with the firm for seventeen years, ending up as chairman, and, along with Frank Lowe, was a main driver of the firm’s success. In New York, Spearman made a presentation at a Loebs board meeting, informing them that the behemoth advertising agencies of Madison Avenue were doomed; it was nimble firms like CDP that had their finger on the pulse. Shortly afterwards, Loeb bought thirty percent of CDP.

In retrospect not all of the agency’s work was ethical. Frozen peas were one thing, but CDP campaigns enabled the tobacco giant Gallaher to double sales of its cigarettes, at a time when the dangers of smoking were becoming public knowledge. With cigarette advertising progressively restricted, initially from television, then print media, CDP created campaigns for Gallaher that were subtle, allusive and often surreal. Even if it was not identified, consumers understood the product being advertised: Hamlet, Benson & Hedges and Silk Cut. Dead-pan and humorous, the Hamlet ads played on peoples’ responses to stressful situations. There was a hidden sub-text, this stress being associated with increasing affluence and social change. Devised by Alan Waldie and Mike Cozens, the Benson & Hedges campaigns were legendary. Adrian Flowers worked on many of these, devising and photographing elaborate sets. Although illogical and irrational, the ads doubled the sales of Benson & Hedges, and in 1978 Waldie was awarded the D&AD Gold Award. Flowers’ photographic shoots included a brightly-lit doorway in a hotel corridor, a cigarette pack standing amidst Stonehenge orthostats, a jig-saw puzzle, and a box containing cufflinks, ornate lighter and a cigarette pack, labelled ‘props for Elyot Chase in Private Lives’.

Another Flowers sets featured tickertape machines, a weighing scales with a packet of B&H outweighing other cigarette packs.

Flowers also photographed a half-open coffin of an Egyptian pharaoh, the gold of the tomb echoing the gold-coloured packaging of the cigarettes. It was launched on the same day that a hugely popular Tutankhamun exhibition opened at the British Museum.

Ad for Benson & Hedges 17.2.72, JN 7074 ‘In the search for gold, leave no stone unturned’ for CDP. Photography Adrian Flowers

Notwithstanding days and even weeks of effort, some of Flowers’ work was not used. “An early Benson & Hedges ad called for a survey to find the perfect golf course. Arthur Parsons sent me to look at one on Majorca and another in Eire. Alan Waldie mentioned a course at Greenwich that proved to be the most suitable. The picture was to show the pack nestling in the long grass in the extreme foreground within putting distance of the green. The title was ‘Lost’, which as we all know is something that too often happens to gold balls and gold cigarette cases.”

Test shot for B&H golf course for CDP.
Photography Adrian Flowers

Although a technical triumph, with everything in perfect focus, the photograph was turned down, as Gallahers felt it represented their product as litter. Alan Waldie was also art director for a series of Harvey Bristol Cream ads, also involving elaborate photographic sets.

Many of the Benson & Hedges sets were built by Shirt Sleeve Studio, an enterprise set up by American-born surrealist artist Nancy Fouts and her husband Malcolm Fowler. The duo’s work was featured in an exhibition at the Angela Flowers gallery in 1970, and two decades later they founded the Fouts and Fowler Gallery. Richard Dearing at CDP directed a series of ads for Silk Cut, the resulting 8 x 10” colour transparencies being among the most impressive ever produced by the Flowers studio.

Harveys Bristol Cream for CDP, JN 7115, 29.3.72

Flowers photographed Birds Eye products (for Carol Nelson, Ray Gundersen and Arthur ‘Art’ Parsons at CDP), and National Panasonic televisions. Art Parsons and Richard Dearing directed a series of Post Office ad campaigns, with photography by Flowers, who also worked on campaigns for Olympus cameras.

Other famous names who worked for the agency included Robin Wight, Don McCullin, Gray Joliffe, John Wood, John Hegarty, Charles Saatchi and Hugh Hudson, the latter going on to direct Chariots of Fire, a film produced by David Puttnam. After the departure of some of its most creative talents—Scott and Parker both went on to become well-known film directors, while Puttnam established himself as a leading film producer—the high energy levels at CDP began to flag. In 1981, Frank Lowe and Geoffrey Howard-Spink left to set up their own agency. The company then went through a number of changes, including being taken over by Dentsu, the Japanese marketing agency responsible for Toyota, and in 2001, under chairman Chris McLeod, was re-branded cdp-travissully.

Birds Eye ‘Family Pie’ JN 7135, 13.4.72 for CDP, Alan Waldie/Arthur Parsons

Selected CDP jobs:

Benson & Hedges (Golf Course 35mm) 7102 a/d Alan Waldie
Harveys Bristol Cream portrait 7115 29.3.72 a/d Alan Waldie
Birds Eye frozen desserts 7133 11.4.72 a/d Arthur Parsons/Alan Waldie
Numerous Birds Eye products – 1972 – a/d Parsons/Waldie/Gundersen/Carol NelsonBenson & Hedges ornithologist 7143 19.4.72: Mike Taylor/Alan Waldie/R. Knapp
GPO – ‘The quick and the dead’ (roses) 7155 7.5.72: Judi Smith
Benson & Hedges International 7166 12.5.72: Arthur Parsons

Harveys Bristol Cream 7182 25.5.72 a/d Alan Waldie
National Panasonic TV 7386 30.3.73 a/d Ted Eckman
Silk Cut 7006 7.12.71 a/d Arthur Parsons
Nescafe 7212 2.7.72 a/d Arthur Parsons
Silk Cut (menthol) etc 7214 8.7.72

Text: Peter Murray

Editor: Francesca Flowers

All images subject to copyright.

Adrian Flowers Archive ©

Categories
Artists Artists in London Portraits

Nicola Hicks

Nicola Hicks MBE, photographed by Adrian Flowers 9th March 1991

Dump Circus, Nicola Hicks’s current exhibition at Flowers Gallery, is in many ways the culmination of a long and fruitful association, one that began in 1984 when she was chosen as ‘artist of the day’ at the Angela Flowers Gallery. The 2021 exhibition is a summing-up, not only of Hicks’s practice as a sculptor but also brings to the fore her darker and more dystopian view of the relationship between the world of humans and animals. Throughout the years of showing with the Gallery, her work was often photographed by Adrian Flowers, both as documentation of studio practice and for catalogue publications.

Born in London in 1960, Nicola Hicks grew up in a house surrounded by art and music. Her mother Jill Tweed, a graduate of the Slade School, is a celebrated portraitist and animal sculptor, while her father Philip Hicks, a painter who died in 2021, taught at the Harrow School of Art and was an accomplished jazz pianist. Hicks inherited her mother’s instinctive affinity with animals—as a child she moulded images in clay in Tweed’s studio—and also her father’s humanitarian spirit: his 1969 Vietnam Requiem is a moving homage to those who suffered in that war. From the outset, animals played an important role in Hicks’s life; dogs were always a part of the household and her mother drew and sculpted sheep, dogs and horses. In 1978, aged eighteen, Hicks enrolled at the Chelsea School of Art, graduating four years later and continuing on to post-graduate studies at the Royal College of Art. In 1984, Elisabeth Frink chose the then twenty-four year old as ‘artist of the day’ at the Angela Flowers Gallery and the following year, Hicks had her first solo show, entitled No Ordinary Beasts, at Flowers. She enjoyed immediate success, exhibiting also at the Hayward Annual, Kettles Yard and the Serpentine Gallery. Works from this period include Hush and I Blow out the Flame (Dancing Girl) a sculpture depicting a pig, and the plaster and straw Death Comes a-Creeping, depicting perhaps an act of coitus, or the death of an animal. Brown Dog*, dating also from 1985, is cast in bronze and sited at Battersea Park. From the outset it was clear that while some of animals depicted by Hicks may be domesticated, in her art their wild nature is emphasised, their primal nature coming to the fore. Her work contains complex references, both visual, literary and metaphorical and her ‘hands on’ approach, while evoking Modernist and contemporary art practice, also references Palaeolithic paintings, where images were created by rubbing soot and ochre pigments onto the walls of caves; the oldest art works known to mankind. Her creatures seem often extracted from a primal sub-conscious sense of the world, evoking simultaneously both life and death.

In 1986, along with a series of large-scale drawings, Hicks’ site-specific sculpture The Fields of Akeldama was installed at the Angela Flowers Gallery at Rosscarbery in West Cork, Ireland. The title of this work refers to Akeldama, the ‘Field of Blood’, the valley near Jerusalem traditionally identified as the place where Judas Iscariot died. Hicks carved the forms of animals out of the living clay, mixed with straw; these outdoor works were eventually eroded by rain, returning into the ground from which they had been sculpted. In 1986 too, Hicks created earth works at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. During those years, her dogs—Brock, a Jack Russell and a greyhound named Rocket (rescued from the Battersea Dogs Home)—featured in her work, notably in the sculpture Rocket 6-1, shown at the Chicago Exposition in 1987, and in her 1989 show at Flowers East. She travelled to India in 1987 with the Henry Moore Memorial Exhibition, a journey that resulted in a new series of works, in which elephants and lions made their appearance. While she has showed at the Beaux Arts Gallery in Bath, and other venues, her principal affiliation has always been to Flowers Gallery, where she has exhibited regularly up to the present day. Works shown in 1989 include Shudder in the Citadel**, a tusked elephant of plaster and straw, wrapping its trunk around its foot, the handwrought surface still bearing the marks of the artist’s hands.

In 1988 Hicks represented Britain at the Rodin Memorial Exhibition in Japan, and the following year travelled in Australia, drawing and sculpting that continent’s flora and fauna, including tortoises and kangaroos. These works were shown in her 1991 Flowers exhibition entitled Fire and Brimstone, characterised by the translation of straw and plaster sculptures into bronze. The following year she exhibited drawings and sculptures inspired by Bill, her new-born son. A 1994 bronze sculpture of a cow falling, Cow Says Moo, was donated by Barbara Lloyd to Murray Edwards College in Cambridge. Other public commissions followed: the monumental bronze Beetle (2000) is sited at Anchor Square in Bristol, near Pero’s Bridge, while her equestrian sculpture of a mounted knight atop a column, also from 2000, is in the Inner Temple courtyard, London. In 1995 an exhibition of her work was held at the Djanogly Art Gallery in Nottingham, and also at Flowers East, featuring works that contained more than a trace of self-portraiture, such as Mother of Minotaurs, Bull Woman, My Love My Heart and Me—works that marked her own giving birth and her maternal relationship with her child.

Bull Woman 1993-94, photograph by Adrian Flowers

That same year, she was awarded an MBE for her services to the visual arts. Through these years, the complexities and nuances in Hick’s work continued to develop: In the sculpture Dan’s Story (2003)— as in a Renaissance painting—cherubs, or putti climb onto a lion’s back, cavorting and gamboling, sitting on the animal’s head grabbing its mane and pulling its long tail. But the darker side of Hicks’s sculpture is never far from the surface. With Banker II (2009) she created a ghoulish horned human figure, walking, carrying perhaps the remains of carcases in its hands. In Hypocrites (2011) a sad bear stands over a dog. The bear seems oblivious to the dog’s rolling over on its back. At Schoenthal, her Crouching Minotaur (2013) is sited in a field.

Hicks identifies so closely with animals that they seem to enter and possess her consciousness. Initially, her sculptures and drawings of animals concentrated on anatomy and movement, but in more recent years, the tone has become more dystopian, exploring the often-fraught relationship between animals and people. Affirming that her approach is intuitive and instinctive, rather than intellectual, she is not afraid to scrap a piece if she feels it is not going well. “The beauty of beasts is in their movement, and their expression. You don’t get much expression out of something when it’s rigid. When I start to make a piece of sculpture, it’s very often like – you almost want to dance, you almost want to get yourself into the pose, and you think – I’m making a cat, . . balancing very gently on something, that’s also balancing very gently, and it’s a delicate relationship that’s building up. Now how does that cat have to be, to balance – where is the tail going to be? And that’s where the movement comes in.”

In 2013 Hicks showed at the Venice Biennale and also had a one person-show at the Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, Connecticut. Among the sculptures shown at Yale was Who was I Kidding (2013) where she adapted the story of the donkey from Aesop’s Fables. In this tale, a donkey wearing a lion skin and terrifying other donkeys, is unmasked by his own braying, and so becomes the subject of ridicule. The materials used, plaster and straw, add to the sense of the abject. There not an ounce of sentimentality in Hicks’s art, which is often brutally direct. She is acutely conscious of the tendency to identify traits in animals that resemble or echo human emotions. Termed the “pathetic fallacy” by John Ruskin in his 1856 Modern Painters, this is a point of view from which animals are seen, incorrectly, as exhibiting human emotions. Hicks is unambiguous on this point: “Animals are not cute and cuddly. From a distance perhaps, without your specs. As soon as you get close up, it’s a beast. It’s an animal, it’s surviving. . . We’re just another species. We think we’re so different and we’re not. I make sculpture for pure and emotional reasons. I didn’t choose to be a figurative sculptor. For me to be an abstract sculptor it would be pretending. That’s not how I work. That’s not how I think.” Not infrequently, the animals she depicts seem to be hurt or in pain. Nonetheless, her drawings bring them to life on the page, resonating with vitality and a sense of movement. While her subject-matter belongs within the realm of Bernini, the Baroque, Landseer, classic chapters in the history of Western Art, her approach is unique, personal and of our times. In placing a cat-like creature on top of an upturned tortoise, there is a gentle allusion to Polynesian creation myths, in which creation stands on the back of a tortoise. Having lived in Australia, tales of how the world originated would have been part of the culture she encountered. She blends these elements together to create works that resonate with a visceral visual and tactile strength, transcending time and place, and forcing the viewer to reappraise where the human race stands in relation to the natural world.

Hick’s work has been written about and reviewed extensively; by Mary Rose Beaumont in Arts Review (Sept 1988 and January 1991) and Brian Sewell in Evening Standard (Dec 1988). Robert Heller contributed an essay to the 1989 Flowers Gallery catalogue, as did William Packer. Giles Auty wrote about her work in The Field in November 1992, and William Packer in the Financial Times (18 July 1995) Tom Phillips contributed an introduction to her 1991 catalogue Fire and Brimstone. In 1998, Will Self wrote a catalogue essay for her show The Camel that Broke the Straw’s Back. The following year, on May 25, her work was reviewed by Frances Spalding in The Independent. In 2000 Tobey Crockett reviewed Hicks’s work in the January edition of Art in America.

Nicola Hicks in her studio in 1994. Photograph by Adrian Flowers

*https://artuk.org/discover/stories/nicola-hicks-brown-dog

**Shudder in the Citadel featured in the South Bank Show:

Text: Peter Murray

Editor: Francesca Flowers

All images subject to copyright.

Adrian Flowers Archive ©

Categories
Artists in St Ives Portraits

Roger Hilton

Roger Hilton photographed by Adrian Flowers in St Ives, May 1959

1911 – 1975

Like the journalist Jeffrey Bernard, whose “unwellness” fascinated theatre audiences for many years, the painter Roger Hilton combined a quintessential British cocktail of artistic genius, bleak humour and the gradual disintegration of bodily functions. Hilton’s last years are documented in hand-written letters to family and friends, published posthumously as Roger Hilton: Night Letters (Newlyn Orion Gallery 1980), with an introduction by his friend Michael Canney. Direct and uninhibited, these writings—mostly to his wife Rose—reveals a man both sensitive and aware of his shortcomings, and are a surprising pleasure to read. Several could not be published as they are so rude about fellow-artists, critics and friends. Suffering from alcoholism and peripheral neuritis, Hilton resisted efforts to admit him to the Maudsley hospital. His day to day needs were not complicated—crayons and paper for drawing, whiskey, batteries for his radio, cigarettes, and fuel for his lighter. He drew incessantly, rapid sketches capturing a zest for life and reflecting an obsession with the female body, even as his own body began to give up. What Hilton made of his life is also what invests his art with remarkable qualities—“make of your mistakes a strength rather than a weakness”—and he was unsentimental to the end: “And let there be no moaning at the bar, when I set out to sea.”

When Adrian and Angela Flowers first visited Hilton’s studio in St. Ives, in May 1959, the painter was relatively young, in good health and evidently pleased to have company and conversation. He was not yet resident in Cornwall; this was an exploratory visit. The Flowers had brought their two young sons, Adam and Matthew, while Angela was pregnant, expecting her third son, Daniel. The artist Denis Mitchell was also present. The photographs taken by Adrian [Job No. 3169] show a sparsely-furnished, white-painted studio, with bare wooden floorboards, the walls lined with abstract paintings. The furniture consisted of two tables, a single-bar electric fire and an old car seat, with Hilton seated on a Victorian chair, and Mitchell perched on a beer crate. Balding and wearing glasses, wearing a smart check jacket, Hilton holds court, clearly in good form. However, in little over a decade, he would become a virtual invalid.

Denis Mitchell, Roger Hilton and Angela Flowers
photograph by Adrian Flowers, May 1959, St Ives

During his lifetime, Hilton drew and painted, not as an enjoyable recreation, but compulsively, with a chaotic sexual frustration often bubbling over in his work. His paintings are the visual equivalent of the poetry of W.S. Graham, one of the many friends with whom he fell out. Graham described Hilton as ‘artist of the astringent, the uncharming, the unkitchened’, but Hilton’s instinctive grasp of the language of abstraction places him in the vanguard of progressive post-war British art. Explanatory labels in galleries and museums may attempt to sanitise Hilton’s failings. However, notwithstanding—or perhaps because of—his personality, his art remains compelling and visceral. Almost the first sentence spoken by his widow Rose, in the video documentary of a retrospective exhibition at the Newlyn Gallery, refers to Hilton’s depiction of the female body. She explains that he was trying to ‘look’ at the human figure in a new way, and it was not insulting to women. Nonetheless, after his death, it took her almost a decade to build up confidence to return to painting. When she met Hilton, she had been one of the Royal College’s most promising graduates.

Born in Northwood, Middlesex, Hilton came from a middle-class immigrant family. Originally from Hamburg, his father Oscar was a medical doctor, and the author of The Health of the Child; a Manual for Mothers and Nurses (1915), a book which decried the tendency for fashionable mothers to ‘sacrifice the welfare of the child to the pleasures of self-indulgence’, advocating instead breast-feeding (with precise instructions on caring for breasts and nipples). The book was dedicated to the author’s three sons ‘John, Roger and Michael’. During WWI, because of anti-German feeling in Britain, the family changed their name from Hildesheim to Hilton. Educated at Bishop’s Stortford College, Roger studied art at the Slade School under Henry Tonks, and between 1931 and 1938 spent a total of two years in Paris, during which time he studied at the Ranson college, an offshoot of the Academie Julian, in Montparnasse. He read French literature, and discovered Parisian cuisine and art. During the Second World War Hilton served in the army, afterwards teaching at the Bryanstown School in Dorset, and the Central School of Arts. Although he painted his first abstract work in 1950, by the end of the decade, reflecting his admiration for Matisse, Laurens and Picasso, he had returned to figurative art. Hilton developed his own personal visual language, one based on drawing, where mistakes were not erased but remained very much part of the work. In keeping with one of his early heroes, Piet Mondrian, the colours were simple; blue, red, black, white and green.

It is difficult to dislike the paintings of Hilton. Colourful, energetic and brimming over with vitality, works such as Oy Yoi Yoi are a brave attempt to lift post-war British painting out of an introverted and dull mindset. In spite of his chauvinism and frequent irascibility, it seems to have been difficult to dislike Hilton himself. But he did not make it easy. Pointing to a dog’s basket, he informed the painter Wilhelmina Barns-Graham it was where women belonged. Barns-Graham was fond of him nonetheless, and appreciated the originality and honesty of his art. In 1965, having divorced his first wife Ruth David, Hilton married Rose Phipps, a woman twenty years his junior. The couple settled in Cornwall and had two children, Bo and Fergus. Hilton enjoyed the company of fellow St. Ives artists, particularly Tony and Jane O’Malley. An alcoholic in the last decades of his life, he was fortunate to live in a part of England where his drinking was tolerated, and where he could also exercise his considerable charm, chatting happily with visitors. Rural life was not uneventful however, and after several episodes of drink driving, Hilton found himself locked up in Exeter goal—the experience reminding him of years he had spent as a prisoner in a German POW camp, having been captured during the raid on Dieppe. As he inched towards death, Hilton’s art became ever more direct and instinctive. His late drawings, including lively female nudes, are among his best work. He died at Botallack, near St. Just, in 1975.

Text: Peter Murray

Editor: Francesca Flowers

All images subject to copyright.

Adrian Flowers Archive ©