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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In 1956, Adrian Flowers visited the sculptor Brian Wall at his studio at Custom House Lane, Porthmeor in St. Ives. Using 120mm colour transparency stock, Flowers photographed a series of painted wood constructions by Wall, setting them up not in the studio but in the open air, on the flat sands of the beach. With titles such as Construction No. 1 and Construction No. 10, the modular black and white frames of these early works by Wall suggest the steel supports of Modernist buildings, while their inner panels, painted in primary colours, are in some ways the realisation in three-dimensional form of paintings by Mondrian.
Flowers photographed Wall and his sculptures several times over the following decades. A sequence of black and white portrait shots taken in February 1963 show Wall assuming various poses; seated, in close-up, head and shoulders, smiling, smoking a cigarette, making funny expressions, hand under chin. He appears by turns thoughtful, quizzical, good-humoured, tough and determined. One sheet of contact prints shows him seated on a high stool. A folder [ref 4456] also contains several large-scale prints, made from these negatives.
Born in Paddington on 5th September 1931, Brian Wall’s childhood was spent in London, although during WWII he was evacuated to Yorkshire. After the war he left school, aged fourteen, to work as a glassblower in a factory. In 1949 he enlisted in the RAF for two years, where he trained as an aerial photographer (as had Adrian Flowers and Len Deighton), before enrolling at Luton College of Art. Deciding to become a painter, in 1954 Wall settled in St. Ives, where initially he worked at the Tregenna Castle Hotel. Shortly afterwards he met Peter Lanyon, who helped him find a studio in Custom House Lane, where Wall worked alongside Terry Frost, Patrick Heron and Sandra Blow. In 1955 he was introduced by Denis Mitchell to Barbara Hepworth, becoming her first studio assistant. He also met David Lewis, who had written on the work of Mondrian and Brancusi, and in 1956 was elected a member of the Penwith Society, exhibiting his work in the Society’s annual shows.
During these years, starting with the painted wood constructions, Wall developed his own sculpture practice, but quickly moved on making works in welded steel. The year after his first one-person show at the Architectural Association in 1957, he was included in the Arts Council exhibition Contemporary British Sculpture, and he also showed with the Drian and Grabowski galleries. In 1959, an article on his work was published in Architectural Design. Moving back to London, Wall became active in fine art education, serving on the National Council for Diplomas in Art and Design, and also on the Arts Council of Great Britain. In 1961-2, he taught at Ealing College of Art, before being appointed Head of Sculpture at the Central School of Art (now Central St. Martins), where William Turnbull and Barry Flanagan were also teaching. In 1961 Wall represented England at the 2nd Paris Biennale, and over the following years his work was shown in exhibitions throughout Britain. He featured in Bryan Robertson and John Russell’s 1965 Private View, a book documenting the rise of London as a centre for contemporary art.
A subsequent set of photographs [ref 5562] taken in London by Adrian Flowers record a series of medium and smaller sized welded steel sculptures by Wall, such as Untitled Steel Sculpture, Black 1964. Some were photographed in a studio setting, others in a laneway outside the artist’s studio. Several feature discs, and circles juxtaposed with straight pieces of steel, such as One Disc (1966); others are purely angular and geometric. Other photographs show the artist in his home, with family members, sculptures displayed on tables, and a geometric abstract painting on the wall.
In 1967 Wall had a solo exhibition at the Arnolfini Gallery in Bristol and was included in the Tate’s British Sculpture in the Sixties. On 25th March of the following year his Always Advancing, a large public sculpture in the form of two A’s, was sited at Thornaby-on-Tees in Yorkshire. In 1968, Wall’s sculptures were included in an exhibition organised by the Whitechapel Art Gallery, New British Painting and Sculpture, that toured to cities in North America, including Portland, Vancouver, Chicago, Houston and San Francisco. The artist visited the US several times, becoming friendly with Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman and the writer Clement Greenberg. In 1969, when the exhibition was shown at the art museum at Berkeley University, he was invited to become a visiting Professor there, and returned the following year, becoming a permanent faculty member in 1972. Although there were artists working in steel before Wall settled in San Francisco, they tended to work in less ‘pure’ modes. His presence in the area influenced several artists, including Fletcher Benton, to begin working directly, in a more abstract way, with welded steel. Taking up US citizenship, Wall became recognised more as an American sculptor and was appointed Chair of the Art Department at Berkeley, a post he held until his retirement in 1994. Throughout his teaching career, he continued to make his own work, setting up a studio and workshop in Oakland, where his assistant is the sculptor Grant Irish. He prefers to make his sculptures directly, working with pieces of steel on a one to one scale, rather than constructing maquettes, or working from drawings. This invests Wall’s work with qualities of lightness that are often absent in large-scale abstract metal sculptures. His pieces appear to teeter, tilt and turn. Circles, cylinders, I-beams and plates hover and jostle playfully. In spite of the massive scale, and the industrial materials he employs, there is a palpable pleasure and joy in his work.
Although Wall rejects the term “Constructivist” to describe his work—on the basis that his work does not relate to architecture, but emerges from a process of intuitive development—there is no mistaking the Central European and revolutionary Russian tradition of industrial materials used to make abstract art. This Constructivist tradition had been promoted in Cornwall during the war years by Naum Gabo, leading Ben Nicholson to adopt a pure minimalist approach to abstraction. Nicholson was an early influence on Wall who, from the outset, steered clear of the expressionist styles of Lynn Chadwick, Reg Butler and Kenneth Armitage, as well as the organic forms of Hepworth and Henry Moore.
A retrospective exhibition of Wall’s sculptures, organised by the Seattle Art Museum in 1982, toured to SFMoMa. The exhibition included two early St. Ives painted wood constructions; Metamorphosis (1955) and Right Angle Deck Construction with Vertical Movement (1956)—both revealing how close the artist had been to architecture at the outset of his career. Although most of the works in the Seattle show were from the 1960’s and 1970’s, including the brightly-painted Early Yellow (1975), there were more recent sculptures too, including October Jump (1981), in which two I-beam girders are supported by cylindrical and plate steel forms. Through the last four decades, Wall continued to exhibit in the UK, showing at Flowers Gallery in 2008 and 2011; he also showed with Flowers in Los Angeles, Max Hutchinson in New York, and with John Berggruen and Hackett Mills in San Francisco. In 2006, a monograph on his work, written by Chris Stephens, was published by Momentum Press 2006, and in 2014 Wall established a foundation to benefit working artists. As recently as 2015 a solo show held at the de Saisset Museum at Santa Clara University featured sculptures monumental in scale but light in feeling, reflecting Wall’s interest in Zen Buddhism—an interest which began in St. Ives in the 1950’s, and continues to inspire his work to the present day.
In terms of promoting awareness of Surrealism in mid twentieth-century Britain, the artist and curator Roland Penrose (1900-1984) is a key figure. Born into an English Quaker family, he studied art in Paris and lived for extended periods in the South of France. A friend—and biographer—of both Picasso and Man Ray, Penrose also knew Paul Elouard and a wide range of avant-garde artists and writers. In 1936 Penrose organized the first exhibition of Surrealist art in London, which featured works by Magritte, Man Ray and Max Ernst. With Andre Breton attending the opening and Salvador Dali performing in Trafalgar Square, the resulting press attention had helped spread the fame and notoriety of the movement throughout Britain. Penrose was also a painter, and in works such as Self-Portrait, he represented himself as an embattled figure, an image prompted no doubt by the often mocking press reaction to the exhibitions and events he organized. In the late 1930’s, around the time he and his first wife, the poet Valentine Buoé, divorced, he met the American photographer Lee Miller, who had previously been muse and companion to Man Ray. In 1947, along with Herbert Read, Penrose was a co-founder of the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London, and twenty years later, as chairman, he oversaw the ICA’s move from its original premises at 17 Dover Street, to Carlton House Terrace, near Buckingham Palace. Key early figures in the history of the ICA include its long-time director Dorothy Morland, the collector Peter Watson, Eduardo and Freda Paolozzi, David Sylvester, Peter Gregory and interior designer Jane Drew. By 1968, Morland had been replaced by Michael Kustow, formerly of the Royal Shakespeare Company, while Penrose’s personal assistant Julie Lawson was now deputy director, a post previously occupied by Brenda Pool, Lawrence Alloway and Jasia Reichardt. When Penrose moved to Paris, to work for the British Council, it left a vacuum, and his role as innovator was taken over by Lawson, Alloway and Morland. With assistance from a trust set up by Penrose, Morland preserved documents relating to the history of the ICA, an archive now held by the Tate.
On June 13th 1968, at his studio in Tite Street, Adrian Flowers photographed Penrose, along with the art critic and curator Mario Amaya. The photographs show the two men, smartly dressed as if for a business meeting. Both are clearly in good humour, relaxed and smiling. In some images, Penrose, the older of the two, is seated on a vintage office chair. Beside him stands Amaya, hair carefully combed and silk handkerchief in breast pocket. The thirty-four year old Brooklyn-born Amaya was also editor of Art and Artists, a magazine he had founded in London three years previously. The photographs clearly relate to the exhibition curated by Amaya, “The Obsessive Image”, which inaugurated the ICA’s tenure at Carlton House Terrace and included works by Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Allen Jones, Francis Bacon and David Hockney. The catalogue introduction had been written by Penrose. “The Obsessive Image” finished its run just two weeks before the photo session. There was clearly a close bond between the two men, with Amaya continuing the pioneering work of Penrose, focusing on Pop Art in much the same way as Penrose had promoted Surrealism three decades earlier. Among the artists supported by Penrose were George Hoellering and Penny Slinger—a performance and installation artist whose work was also photographed by Adrian Flowers. A photograph of Roland Penrose, taken by Flowers in 1970, is in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery. Penrose and Lee Miller married in 1947 and lived for many years at Farley Farm in Sussex, where an archive and museum dedicated to their lives and work is maintained by their son Antony Penrose and his daughter Ami Bouhassane.
However, the sequence of photographs taken on June 13th 1968 is remarkable for other reasons. Just ten days previously, in New York City, along with Andy Warhol, Amaya had been shot and wounded by a mentally unbalanced woman, Valerie Solanas. While Warhol was critically wounded, the bullet aimed at Amaya had grazed his back without causing any major harm. Discharged from hospital, he was able to return to London for the portrait shoot at Flowers’ studio. Two years later, he was appointed chief curator at the National Gallery of Ontario, and over the following decade, before his premature death from AIDS in London in 1986, Amaya was a popular and charismatic figure in the art world, best remembered for his championing of Pop Art and for publications such as Blacks: USA,Pop as Art, Art Nouveau and Tiffany Glass.
Although still in her early forties when photographed by Adrian Flowers in March 1961, Kató Havas had already gained a reputation as one of the leading violin teachers in Europe and the United States. The photographs taken by Flowers that day show Havas demonstrating her technique of playing the violin, an approach more relaxed than the traditional concert style which had carried over from the nineteenth century. In some of the portrait photographs, a dark-haired and stylishly dressed Havas, holding her violin, looks directly at the camera. Other images show her playing, bow in her right hand, and left elbow directly below the violin. This was the loose, fluid style of playing that Havas had witnessed as a child, when she saw Gypsy musicians playing in her native Carpathia, and which she developed into the technique for which she became famous.
Born in the market town of Târgu Secuiesc (Keszdivasarhely) in the Carpathian mountains, from an early age Havas’s parents, Sandor and Paula Weinberger, had encouraged her music studies, following the pedagogical system then being developed by Zoltan Kodály. In 1927, aged seven, Havas gave her first professional recital at Kolozsvár, playing works by Brahms and Schubert, and the following year enrolled at the Franz Liszt Academy in Budapest, where she studied under Imre Waldbauer. Whilst a student, she met Bartók, Kodály and Dohnányi, with all three attending her first recital at the Academy. It was during this time that the pressure of performance began to affect Havas’s playing; the rigid technique she had been taught was causing tendonitis and other physical problems. In 1939, she travelled to the United States, making her debut at Carnegie Hall, and also learning, from David Mendoza, a more natural left-hand method of violin playing.
The following year, giving her Hungarian ‘minders’ the slip, she eloped with the author William Woods. Had she returned to Hungary, she would almost certainly have been amongst the more than one hundred thousand Transylvanian Jews who were exterminated in death camps. In 1944, all the Jews of her native town Targu Sacuiesc were deported to Auschwitz. Through his writings, Woods documented a world of terror from which he had helped Kató escape: published in 1942, his debut novel Edge of Darkness documents Nazi atrocities in Norway. This was followed with Manuela (1958) a novel recounting the story of a middle-aged ship’s captain who falls in love with a young female stowaway: the film version was directed by Guy Hamilton, and starred Elsa Martinelli and Trevor Howard. Woods and Havas went on to have three daughters, Susanna, Pamela and Kate, and Havas gave up giving concert recitals, concentrating instead on developing a more natural way of playing the violin, using rhythm and song: “Hear with your eyes, and see with your left hand”, she said, emphasising that a violin player should strive to feel there was ‘no violin’ and ‘no bow hold’.
Although in 1920—the year she was born—Transylvania had been transferred from Austro-Hungarian rule to the Romanian kingdom, Havas always regarded herself as Hungarian. Unable to return to her homeland for decades because of the post-war Russian occupation, she and Woods settled in Dorset, England, where he continued his career as a screenwriter, working mainly for television. Meanwhile, Havas took up music again, teaching, writing and gaining a reputation as teacher, performer and theorist; her approach enabling many musicians to overcome stage fright, and to give more natural performances. Her first book, A New Approach to Violin Playing was published in 1961: “A warm and beautiful tone has nothing to do with talent or individual personality. It is merely the putting the right pressure, on the right pot, at the right moment.”
To achieve good results, never tell a pupil what not to do. Give her something positive to do instead. As soon as the cause of the trouble is recognized, track it down step by step with such compelling logic that there is not an atom of doubt left. Questions and discussions are to be encouraged, not only so that the pupil can work with the teacher but also to give her a chance to think things out for herself. Demonstrate: first, the incorrect way, to point out the faulty tone, and then the correct way. Results should be judged by the “degree of excellence in tone production” because the ability to listen, and listen continuously, is one of the greatest voids among young violinists (p.57).
This was followed by several publications including her 1973 Stage Fright and Freedom to Play, published in 1981. Lecturing at Oxford University and television appearances brought Havas a degree of fame. She founded and directed the Purbeck Music Festival in Dorset, as well as the Roehampton Music Festival in London, and the International Festival in Oxford. In 1971, her marriage to Woods having ended in divorce, she married Tim Millard-Tucker, a design engineer. In 1985, the “Kató Havas Association for the New Approach” was founded, and in 2002 she was invited to return to Hungary to lecture at the Academy where she had studied in the 1930’s. In 2002 she was appointed OBE. Sixteen years later, Havas died, aged 98.
She had had a worldwide influence, and among those who benefitted from her teaching were Janet Scott Hoyt, Pamela Price in Sheffield, John Ehrlich and Don Peterson in Iowa, and Claude Kenneson in the University of Alberta. For many years Claude Kenneson had taught at the Havas Summer School in Dorset, and through his writings and career he endeavoured to continue her legacy in music.
Directed by Linda Brusasco, the television documentary The Man Who Shot the Sixties recounts the life story of Brian Duffy, a portrait photographer famous for his gift of charming, enchanting—and occasionally antagonising—his sitters, but also, more importantly, for his ability to capture superb images on film. In his conversations with colleagues and clients, Duffy could be both funny and caustic, but he was a highly sensitive individual, with an intimate knowledge of the world of fashion and clothing. Famously argumentative, he often found himself in the company of the rich and famous; top models, actors and politicians, but was also on good terms with the London’s East End community, including the notorious Kray brothers. Duffy became one of the top photographers at Vogue, and was later an imaginative director of short films for rock bands, but in 1990 he packed it all in, to set up a furniture restoration workshop in Camden where he worked for the next twenty years. A star during the swinging sixties, along with Terence Donovan and David Bailey, by the turn of the twenty-first century Duffy had faded from public view. Broadcast by the BBC in 2010, The Man Who Shot the Sixties was a timely step in promoting a wider awareness of this remarkable photographer, who had died that same year.
The Adrian Flowers archive includes several sets of photographs of Duffy. The earliest are individual portrait shots taken in January 1958, while the latest date from 1966, and were taken after a celebratory lunch at Alvaro’s restaurant on the King’s Road in Chelsea. In April of that year Duffy had photographed Alvaro Maccioni and his staff at the opening of the new restaurant, an enterprise which immediately rivalled the legendary Trattoria Terrazza in terms of its celebrity and film world clientele. After the lunch, on the spur of the moment, a group including Len Deighton, Duffy, Donovan, and Norman Brand, decided to call in to see Flowers at his studio on Tite Street. Ten years before, a young and inexperienced Duffy had been taken on as assistant photographer by Flowers. Norman Brand had worked for Vogue until 1962, when he joined Duffy at his studio in King Henry’s Road, Primrose Hill. Brand recalls the visit to Flowers: “I don’t know why but as we left it was decided that we would stroll down the King’s Rd and turn left into Tite Street where Adrian had his studio. After the usual chat someone said we should do a group portrait! I have always remembered this occasion and the photo being taken and always regretted never seeing the result but am thrilled to see it after all these years!” A series of photographs, formal and informal, were taken. In several of these, Duffy and Donovan pose together, laughing and joking.
There is also a series of ‘family’ portraits, where everyone assembled good-humouredly in front of the camera. In these, Adrian stands to the right, cable release just visible in his hand. Behind him, wearing spectacles and smiling, is Brand. Deighton is at the back, wearing a white linen jacket, with Donovan to his right. Tousle-headed and with his characteristic impish smile, Duffy is kneeling at the front. He is wearing a tie, as indeed are all the men in the photograph. Donovan looks particularly formal, as if about to attend a funeral. The woman wearing the fashionable trouser suit has not been identified, nor the man in the foreground, leaning on his elbow. The photograph celebrates the culmination of Duffy’s career, when he was launching himself into the world of film production, after achieving fame as a stills photographer.
Born in Paddington, north London in 1933, to Irish parents, Duffy grew up in a world defined by conflict, and spent most of his childhood in a city regularly subjected to air raids. During one period of intense bombing he was temporarily evacuated, to the home of actors Roger Livesay and Ursula Jeans. However, through most of the war years he lived in London with his parents. His father, a cabinet-maker, was politically active and at one point had been imprisoned for involvement with the IRA. His mother was from Athlone, had an eye for stylish clothes, and was a devout Catholic. Escaping the confines of a household where religion and Republicanism were closely linked, Duffy and his friends enjoyed the freedom of the city—albeit a freedom tinged with fear—as they explored bomb sites and wrecked houses. Duffy’s parents never moved to the East End. His son Chris Duffy recalls: “my Mum’s parents lived in East Ham and I was brought up there until the age of five, so Duffy’s association with the East End was through my Mum’s side.” David Bailey, five years younger than Duffy, also grew up in this area. A rebellious teenager, often ending up in trouble, Duffy was fortunate to come of age at a time when the recent Butler Act had abolished school fees, opening secondary education to children from working class homes. He was also lucky in attending a progressive school in South Kensington run by ex-servicemen, the purpose of which was to introduce children to a wide range of culture, including opera, galleries and museums. At the age of seventeen, Duffy enrolled in St. Martin’s School of Art, hoping to become a painter, but, intimidated by the skills and intellectual discussions of his fellow-students, switched to fashion design. At college he met Len Deighton; they formed a life-long friendship. After graduating, Duffy worked for Susan Small, and then for Princess Margaret’s dress designer, Victor Stiebel. Later he worked for Harper’s Bazaar, where the art director Gill Varney showed him how photography and fashion were closely intertwined. Deciding to take up photography, Duffy had a series of short-lived apprenticeships, and a spell at Artist Partners, before being taken on as an assistant in 1956 by Adrian Flowers. Although Flowers came from the same background as did many of the leading photographers of the day—John French had been in the Grenadier Guards, Cecil Beaton had been to Harrow and Cambridge, while Flowers himself attended Sherborne—he recognised and encouraged young talented photographers, irrespective of backgrounds or accents.
Terence Donovan also worked as an assistant in the Flowers studio. During this time Duffy received his first commission, from Ernestine Carter, fashion editor of The Sunday Times magazine. He was a star photographer for this publication for over twenty years, working closely with art director Michael Rand. In 1957 he was hired by Vogue, and grew to admire its editor Audrey Withers, another person willing to take a risk promoting young talent. Duffy loved France and, beginning in 1961, began to spend time in Paris, working for Elle magazine, where Peter Knapp was art director. For Elle he photographed Ina Balke and other models in Parisian street settings, as well as on the Cote d’Azur and Morocco. Independent, averse to being told what to do, using 35mm cameras and Rolliflexes, working at a fast pace, often in street settings, Duffy, Donovan and Bailey broke many of the conventional rules of photography and were variously referred to as ‘the black trinity’ or ‘the terrible three’. Duffy’s photographs were inventive, with dramatic compositions, often close-cropped. His models, their arms raised in angular poses, sometimes bring to mind the iconography of saints in ecstasy. He was also conscious of cinema, and his photograph of people running underneath cranes could easily be a still from Trauffaut’s 1962 Jules et Jim, while in 1964, his photograph of Celia Hammond, arms outstretched on a street in Florence, could equally be from Kalatozov’s film Soy Cuba, released that same year. This acute visual awareness informs many of Duffy’s images; a model turning and reaching her hand backwards in an open limousine, taken for Town magazine in 1965, recalls the terrified actions of Jackie Kennedy two years earlier in Dallas. Duffy worked for Vogue for six years, photographing Kellie Wilson, Francoise Rubartelli, Jean Shrimpton, Jennifer Hocking, Joy Weston and other top models. Many of the best photographs of Joanna Lumley were taken by him. For Queen magazine he photographed Nicole Da La Marge, Paulene Stone, and Jill Kennington. He also often worked with model Marie-Lise Gres, and in 1962 photographed her at Castletown House in Co. Kildare, a Palladian house being restored by Desmond and Mariga Guinness and the Irish Georgian Society. Duffy also worked for Esquire, the Observer, and The Telegraph, becoming well-known for his portraits. His sitters ranged from politicians to actors, including Harold Wilson, Michael Caine, Ursula Andress, Brigitte Bardot, Nina Simone and Sammy Davis Jnr. At Nova Molly Parkin was another perceptive art director who recognised his talent. For one provocative article “How to Undress for your Husband” the model Amanda Lear posed in states of semi-nudity. Lear had also studied at St. Martin’s and had been a long-time muse of Salvador Dali. Her true gender identity was often the subject of gossip, and she is said to be the inspiration for the character Patsy in Absolutely Fabulous. In 1966, Duffy was at the peak of his career, when Peggy Roche moved from Elle to become fashion editor of London Life magazine, where David Puttnam, himself the son of a photographer, was managing editor. Duffy took several of the cover photographs for this influential but short-lived magazine. Although the photographs used in Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-Up, made that same year, were by Don McCullin, the film was largely based on the work and lifestyles of Duffy, Donovan and Bailey. By the late 1960’s, with Puttnam now his agent, Duffy was moving away from stills photography, and becoming involved with Len Deighton in a film company. The company headquarters were at the bottom of Park Lane, in Piccadilly, the grand offices featuring a partner’s desk, made by Derek Gamble, in the shape of an propeller. Their productions included the 1968 Only When I Larf, and the following year Oh What a Lovely War, films directed by Basil Deardon and Richard Attenborough respectively. The team that travelled to Beirut in 1967 for Only When I Larf included Duffy, Deighton, Brand and Deardon. Having acquired the rights to the musical play Oh What a Lovely War, by Joan Littlewood, Duffy put together a team to film the production on Brighton Pier. However his hopes of directing the film were quashed by trade union regulations so instead he became the producer. Obsessed with World War I, Duffy had an extensive library of books on the topic. He also shot Lions Led by Donkeys a documentary made for Channel 4 about the battlefield of the Somme. David Puttnam’s 1987 film Hope and Glory is a moving depiction of the wartime London in which Duffy had grown up, and which had shaped his attitude to life. Ever restless, Duffy moved on and began to specialise in more technically-sophisticated photography. In addition to working for the legendary Pirelli calendar, where he used Monaco as the location for his first portfolio in 1965, he photographed the musician David Bowie over a period of several years. The resulting images came to define Bowie’s stage persona, with four being used on album covers, including the 1973 Aladdin Sane. During these years, Duffy also focused on advertising campaigns for CDP, (where Puttnam had also worked), notably those for Smirnoff, Aquascutum, and for cigarette brands Silk Cut and Benson and Hedges, where his surreal visual imagination came into full play. For Aalders Marchant Weinreich he photographed Mary Quant products. He also worked for Biba. However, having conducted the equivalent of a guerrilla war within the elitist world of advertising for almost three decades, in 1990 Duffy retired, to concentrate on the craft of furniture restoration.
In 2010, two years after his son Chris has founded the Archive that bears his name, Duffy died of pulmonary disease. Unrepentant to the end, he observed “keeping your tongue up the society that pays you is an art of which I was void.” At his funeral the eulogy was delivered by David Puttnam, who observed that ‘the world needs more Duffys’, describing him as a ‘supremely talented and esoteric man . . a man who thrived on risks and challenges, who lived to create.’ Although he had destroyed many of his negatives in the late 1970’s, enough have survived to form a substantial collection. Over the following years, the Duffy Archive has thrived, becoming an invaluable resource of images that define the visual culture of the late twentieth century, and maintaining an online portal for the thirty or so galleries that represent Duffy’s work. Beginning in 2009 at the Chris Beetles Gallery in Mayfair, exhibitions of his photographs have been held around the world. The only showing of his work in Ireland, where both his parents were born and where he was conceived, took place in 2017, at the ebow gallery in Castle Street, Dublin.
With the publication of Virginia Button’s recent book on Wilhelmina Barns-Graham, following on Lynne Green’s monograph W. Barns-Graham, A Studio Life, the achievements of this leading post-war abstract artist are now being fully recognised. Although a key member of the St. Ives group, Barns-Graham was unfairly marginalised in the 1985 survey exhibition ‘St. Ives 1939-64: Twenty-five years of Painting, Sculpture and Pottery’, held at Tate St. Ives—although two subsequent solo exhibitions of her work at that museum have gone some way towards remedying the oversight. In some ways, as Button points out, in refusing to remain silent on the issue of gender discrimination, Barns-Graham found herself alienated from the largely male cadre of curators, artists and patrons of the period, who felt she was not ‘playing the game’. The frontispiece in Button’s book, a photograph portrait taken by Adrian Flowers in 1955, shows the artist in her studio. During his visit, Flowers also took photographs of her paintings, sculptures and geometric plaster reliefs.
The paintings, including White, Black and Terracotta (1954) are hard-edged abstract compositions, angular, often with interlocking forms. At that time, Barns-Graham was achieving widespread recognition; two years before, the first solo show of her work had been held in London, at the Redfern Gallery. Flowers photographed Barns-Graham and her then husband David Lewis, standing together, but at a slight distance. Having married in 1949, they were a golden couple in the art world, photogenic, stylishly-dressed and very much of the Modernist era, but Flowers’ images also capture a certain awkwardness between them.
Born into a well-off family in St. Andrews, Scotland, Barns-Graham studied at the Edinburgh College of Art, where in addition to conventional studio tuition, where the emphasis was on observational drawing, she attended lectures by Herbert Read, and was tutored by William Gilles, whose modernist abstract works were a great influence. In 1940, after spending some time travelling on the Continent, Barns-Graham settled in St. Ives where she met Ben Nicholson, Barbara Hepworth, Borlase Smart, Naum Gabo and Bernard Leach, and began to explore abstraction. Although her early work was representational, and she showed with the Newlyn Society and at the Royal Scottish Academy, Barns-Graham quickly became seen as a leading progressive artist, not only for the quality of her work but also in terms of media coverage of the burgeoning art scene in Cornwall. Her marriage in 1948 to Lewis reinforced this celebrity, especially when he became secretary of the Penwith Society.
Tall, good-looking, gregarious and charming, Lewis was ten years younger than Barns-Graham. However, having come to Cornwall from South Africa, he was ambitious and by 1954 was beginning to see St. Ives as a cul-de-sac. The year after these photographs were taken, he and Barns-Graham split up, Lewis eventually settling in Canada, where he became a professor of architecture and urban planning. Their marriage was annulled in 1960. Although these events were a blow to Barns-Graham’s personal self-esteem, the set-back was temporary, and while retiring somewhat from the world, she continued to develop her art. Experimenting with different styles, she maintained an abiding interest in geology, which provided, so to speak, a bed-rock for her creative process. This was not surprising, as it was in Edinburgh that James Hutton in the eighteenth century had pioneered the modern interpretations of rock formation. The Cornish coastline and the beach at Porthmeor were a continuing inspiration to Barns-Graham, but from the 1960’s onwards, she travelled extensively, seeking both artistic inspiration and emotional solace in the harshest of landscapes, including the glaciers of Switzerland (which she had first visited in 1949) and the volcanic terrain of the Canary Islands. While her later paintings are more fluid, with colours mixing and merging, the earlier works tend to be hard-edged and geometric. Some echo the fractures and dislocations of faults in strata, while the use of red, reminiscent of liquid magma, is a recurring feature in her art. Barns-Graham’s use of vibrant colours gives her paintings an emotional kick, while her abstract compositions are hard-won, based on close observation of nature, careful thought and inspiration. In the 1990’s she created a series of energetic and colourful paintings, some with a series she titled ‘Scorpio’. Joyous and colourful, these works have echoes of jazz improvisation, and dance. From 1998, at the Graal Press near Edinburgh, she also explored the medium of screen-printing, working with the press’s founders Carol Robertson and Robert Adams. Although Barns-Graham died in 2004, both her work and her contribution to art are sustained by the Trust set up in her name.
[see Virginia Button Wilhelmina Barns-Graham (Sansom & Company, 2020)]
Although a stalwart of the St. Ives art world through the 1950’s and ‘60’s, Michael Seward Snow is today not so well-known as his fellow artists who settled in Cornwall, such as John Wells, Bryan Wynter or Wilhelmina Barns-Graham. Yet, with his love of poetry and painting, Snow’s aesthetic embodies the vibrant connection that existed between literature and the visual arts in St. Ives. He was multi-talented; writer, painter, sculptor, tutor and occasional photographer. Snow’s photographs of his friend, the poet William Sydney Graham, are in the National Portrait Gallery. Along with his second wife Margaret Lambert, he edited Night Fisherman: Selected letters of W. S. Graham, a testament to the writer whose work celebrates both the Cornish landscape and the artists inspired by its rocky coastline. The son of a schoolteacher, Michael Snow was born in Manchester in 1930, and attended the Lawrence Sheriff School in Rugby, where he developed an interest in art and poetry. He worked for some years as a librarian, painting in his spare time. In 1951, after visiting Liverpool and seeing an exhibition of contemporary art from St. Ives, he and his first wife Sylvia Jarrett, and their friend Alexander Mackenzie, decided to settle in Cornwall. A graduate of Liverpool College of Art, Mackenzie was one of the early influences on Snow’s development as an artist.
Largely self-taught, Snow was a generation younger than Terry Frost, Barns-Graham and Ben Nicholson, and was receptive to the new ideas expressed in their work. In his own art, he sought to emulate their approach to abstraction, and in paintings such as Sea Cliffs – West Penwith created a visual translation of the rhythmic motion of waves and the ragged line of Cornish clifftops. Other abstract works, such as Earth Slip and Triad 2, evoke the sea-rounded stones on the shores below those cliffs. He fitted in well with the St. Ives art scene, was elected a member of the Penwith Society in 1953 and became its secretary the following year. A talented artist and a fine colourist, he was more literal in his approach to abstraction than Ben Nicholson or Patrick Heron, and his paintings do not have the same hard-won abstract visual language that characterises the work of Peter Lanyon, but nevertheless he produced fine paintings, with an instinctive sense of form and colour.
In 1956, Snow and his wife divorced, with Sylvia then marrying their mutual friend, the poet Robin Skelton. In a neat and amicable reciprocation, Margaret Lambert, Skelton’s partner, then married Snow. The following year Snow and Skelton were in Manchester, where, along with John Anthony Connor, they founded the slightly anarchic Peterloo Group, and held a number of exhibitions, the first being in the large front room of Skelton’s flat. Skelton and his wife Silvia later settled in British Columbia, where he became a university professor, prolific author, and an authority on Irish poetry. Snow and Margaret Lambert returned to St. Ives, where they had a son, Justin. The Peterloo Group proved resilient, evolving from informal beginnings into the Manchester Institute for Contemporary Art.
Not long after their return to St. Ives, in December 1963, Adrian Flowers visited the town, photographing Snow and Margaret Lambert, walking on the beach below Porthmeor Studios, and along the nearby clifftops. He also recorded the dramatic rock formations of West Penwith and the sea-rounded stones that inspired many of Snow’s paintings.
Back in the studio above Porthmeor Beach, Flowers took a sequence of dramatic photographs, in which Snow laid a canvas flat on the studio floor, and then prepared it for painting. He evidently preferred to work standing above his paintings, using long-handled artist’s brushes. In one sequence, Snow is actively painting: an abstract composition evolves, circular motifs juxtaposed with parallel lines. Climbing up to a roofspace, Flowers photographed the artist from above. Other images record Snow accessing the beach below his studio, by simply climbing out the large window and shinning down a ladder. Adrian’s dog Sarah, a boxer labrador cross, accompanied him and appears in several photographs.
A later sequence of photographs taken by Flowers, 5 x 4 colour transparencies, depict abstract paintings by Snow, including the canvas Archangel, a work dating from April 1962. There are also photographs (undated), labelled “Mike Snow” showing a large welded metal sculpture, perhaps four metres high. Based on the structure of a leaf, this white-painted sculpture was probably a commission, destined for a public site. [AF 4258]
In 1964 Snow showed at the Rowan Gallery in London and the following year, took a job teaching at the Exeter College of Art and Design, a post he held for two decades. Having access to the college’s sculpture department, and inspired by an interest in cosmology and physics, he decided to make a series of welded metal sculptures. These works, some with metal discs, are not unlike the contemporary sun and moon sculptures of Morris Graves. In 1967, Flowers took large-scale colour transparencies of one of these metal sculptures by Snow. Two similar pieces are in the Box gallery collection in Plymouth, where Snow’s friend Alexander Mackenzie was Head of Fine Art from 1964 to 1984. In later years, the Snows lived on the edge of Dartmoor. Margaret died in 2009; Michael, aged 82, in 2012.
[see Robin Skelton “Retrospect- 4: A Brief Account of the Peterloo Group” in Ambit No. 10 (1961) pp 5-8]
On 7th January 1956, on the first floor of a house in Blackheath in south London, Adrian Flowers set up his studio lights and large-format Sinar camera, to photograph works by the artist Victor Pasmore. Facing the heath, the three-storey Georgian house was large enough to accommodate both the artist’s studio and family living space. Victor and Wendy Pasmore (née Blood) had moved into this bomb-damaged but elegant house in 1947; their son John was born there in 1953. On this day, and during at least one subsequent visit, using 35mm and 120 film, as well as large-scale colour transparencies, Flowers photographed Pasmore, his studio and artworks.
One transparency shows Pasmore, dark-haired, bearded and wearing a grey suit, seated in an armchair, with three plates on a bookcase behind him. Decorated with bold abstract patterns by the artist, the plates evoke a Japanese aesthetic, as does the accompanying branch of cherry blossom, in a glass vase. [The flowering blossom suggests this photograph was taken in March.] Although a picture rail is visible in some of these photographs, Pasmore subsequently removed this architectural feature, to create more of a white cube. The sitting room was furnished with a white couch, vases on the chimneypiece and louvered shutters outside the windows.
Three weeks after Flowers’ first visit, Pasmore wrote to him from Newcastle, requesting a photograph for a forthcoming article in Art and Architecture magazine. [Victor Pasmore, 46 Eldon Place, Newcastle on Tyne, to Adrian Flowers, 25 Jan 1956 (AF archive)]. By 1956, Pasmore had been head of fine art at Newcastle on Tyne for two years, but commuted regularly back to his Blackheath home and studio. In another Flowers photograph, he looks through a transparent section in one of his abstract reliefs. Suspended from a piano wire, this work cantilevered out from the wall. Behind it is the relief Abstract in White, Black, Indian and Lilac, a work now in the Tate (where it is dated 1957, but may date from the previous year). As the photography progressed, Pasmore hung a selection of Perspex and wood reliefs in different combinations on the sitting room wall.
The room was on its way to becoming a gesamkunstwerk, with abstract constructions, painted chimneypiece, striped cushions, and hanging mobile sculptures. The furniture is mid-twentieth century Modernist, including what appears to be an early Poang chair, and a wingback armchair. The modernist couch is a Hille design, from Heals. Like Pasmore, Hille’s principal designer, Robin Day, had worked on the 1951 Festival of Britain; his seating in the Royal Festival Hall was a triumph of modernist design.
Flowers’ photograph of the studio work table at Blackheath reveals that Pasmore used household enamels to paint his perspex and wood abstract relief constructions, his preferred brand being Enamel-it. According to the label on the tin, this lacquer paint was made ‘from bakelite’. There was also Fergusson’s gloss enamel, some pigments and oil colours, and a tin of Naylor’s cellulose, used as a thinner. The brushes were a mixture of those used by fine artists and house decorators. A sculpture made of wooden spools and discs threaded onto a cord, hung over the studio work table.
In another image, Pasmore is sitting on a metal chair, in front of a fireplace, above which hangs an abstract relief. Other geometric artworks hang on the wall alongside the fireplace. In making these works Pasmore had been influenced by American artist Charles Biederman’s book Letters on the New Art (1951) which advocated the use of industrial materials. The photographs show Pasmore during a period when he was at the peak of his career, a confident artist, thoughtful and reflective.
Other photographs taken by Flowers at a later date, black and white this time, show Pasmore supervising the construction of a temporary exhibition pavilion at the Whitechapel Art Gallery for the exhibition This is Tomorrow in 1956, a collaboration with Helen Phillips and Ernö Goldfinger, in which temporary walls were constructed within the gallery space using a framework of metal tubing and wood, to create an ‘environment’.
Through a lifetime of teaching, designing structures and making art, Victor Pasmore was responsible for leading a wider popular acceptance of Modernist art and architecture in mid-twentieth century Britain. Born in Surrey, he grew up in a middle class household, his mother being a painter, while his father, the medical superintendent at Croydon Mental Hospital, was a keen art collector. Pasmore attended Harrow School, where he was taught by Maurice Clarke and, three years in succession, won the Yates Thompson Prize for art. However the death of his father in 1927 resulted in Pasmore having to secure a job with London County Council. Employed as a clerk in the Public Health Department for ten years, he maintained his art education, taking evening classes at the Central School of Art. Pasmore’s work during this period was sensitive, naturalistic, and inspired by a feeling for nature and respect for artists such as Cézanne and JMW Turner. In 1934 his first exhibition took place, at the Zwemmer Gallery in London. Three years later, along with William Coldstream and Claude Rogers, he founded an independent School of Drawing and Painting at Fitzroy Street. With support and encouragement from the art historian Kenneth Clark and philanthropist Samuel Courtauld, this enterprise later became the Euston Road School. Aided by Clark, Pasmore retired from his job with LCC and became a full-time artist. During the Second World War, Pasmore was a conscientious objector, and with some difficulty succeeded, again with help from Clark and Coldstream, in obtaining exemption from military service. In 1943 he took up a teaching post at Camberwell School of Art, where he taught for six years, and was tutor to Terry Frost. During this time, while living at Chiswick, and later at Hammersmith Terrace, and inspired by Turner’s atmospheric paintings, he produced lyrical views of the river Thames.
In 1948, shortly after moving to the house at Blackheath, Pasmore shifted from painting in a lyrical representational style to one of pure abstraction. He described these works in terms suited to music—as motifs or variations—and was not afraid of what he called ‘arbitrary invention’, although his approach to creativity was in fact highly-skilled and far from arbitrary. A visit to St. Ives in 1950 and meeting with Ben Nicholson were critical to his change in approach, and the following year Pasmore was elected to the Penwith Society of Arts. As with many of his generation, he was idealistic, seeing in art a way towards a better future for society, and actively sought to share his aesthetic feelings with a wider public. In 1950 he was commissioned to create a mural for a bus station in Kingston Upon Thames, and the following year was one of the artists selected by the Arts Council to create works for the Festival of Britain. He also took up a post at the Central School of Art, where he taught for four years. In 1954 Pasmore became head of painting at the Department of Fine Art in Durham University in Newcastle, a position he held for seven years. Teaching at Newcastle provided him with the opportunity of introducing a fine art course modelled on Bauhaus teaching. This course led to a BA degree, one of the earliest in Britain or Ireland. In spite of differing approaches to art, Pasmore and Richard Hamilton worked well together. Pasmore introduced Hamilton into the school as a tutor, and in time the new arrival took over as head of department. Together, these two artists epitomise the best and most progressive art of post-war Britain, creating an energy that in every way matched that of the leading art schools of London. Commissioned to create murals for the Newcastle Civic Centre and Pilkington’s glass works, Pasmore also worked on the Peterlee development, designing a monumental Modernist concrete structure for the new town centre. In 1959, he was selected for Documenta II and two years later represented Britain at the Venice Biennale. He was also appointed a Trustee of the Tate Gallery. In 1966 Pasmore bought a house in Malta, and over the following years, until his death, spent much of his time there. His son John kept on the house at Blackheath, with the studio and other rooms virtually unchanged since the January day in 1956 when Adrian Flowers recorded his first images of Pasmore on film.