On February 10th 1970, Angela Flowers opened her first art gallery, at the Artists International Association (AIA) building in Lisle Street, London. This pioneering venture, by a woman who had extensive knowledge of the contemporary art world, but little previous gallery experience, captured the imagination, and financial support, of a small group of patrons and artists, including Adrian Heath, Len Deighton, and Angela’s cousin, a member of the Courtauld family. Several weeks earlier, on 17th January, the artists who were to be represented by the new gallery had assembled, and were photographed by Adrian Flowers. They included John Loker, Brendan Neiland, Roy Ascott, David Troostwyk, Derek Hirst, Patrick Hughes, Lis Sutton and Tom Phillips. Robert Heller later wrote of the new gallery: “Its start was modest, in one of London’s smallest commercial spaces – the top floor of a converted house in Lisle Street, off Leicester Square. Apart from a brief period at the ICA, Angela Flowers had never worked in an art gallery, but was widely respected in the art world as a knowledgeable and keen visitor to exhibitions. She knew many artists personally, partly through many visits to St. Ives. She boldly accepted the challenge of taking the Lisle Street premises from the Artists’ International Association, which occupied the rest of the house, and set about creating a distinctive style of her own.” Artist and AIA member Adrian Heath was a key figure in the venture. An early supporter of Terry Frost, two decades earlier, in 1951, Heath had organised an exhibition of abstract art at the AIA Gallery. He remained a leading figure in contemporary art over the following years. In 1970 he negotiated the agreement between Angela and the AIA, enabling the new venture to get going. The inaugural exhibition was of work by Patrick Hughes, who Angela had met while working at the ICA. “We booked a table at Trattoria Terrazza” recalls Angela “and my first ever customers were there, the dress designer Thea Porter and Frank and Corinne Streich, an American couple working in advertising and journalism.” The dinner was memorable. At the time, Hughes’ partner was Molly Parkin, fashion editor at the Sunday Times. The exhibition was a great success, as was the following exhibition of work by Derek Hirst. Quickly, in an art world dominated by institutions such as the Marlborough Galleries and Waddingtons, Angela Flowers established a niche for herself, identifying and encouraging young talent and taking risks that more established galleries shied away from. Other artists who showed with Angela in those early years were Jeff Nuttall, Penelope Slinger, Ian Breakwell, Jeanne Masoero and Nancy Fouts.
Having grown and flourished over the past half-century, with Angela now as Chairman, and her son Matthew as Managing Director, the idea that germinated in Lisle Street in 1970 has grown into a world-wide enterprise, with spaces in Cork Street, East London, New York and Hong Kong. On February 10th 2020, the fiftieth anniversary of the Gallery was celebrated, at Flowers Gallery, Kingsland Road, Shoreditch.
Beginning in July 1954, Adrian and Angela Flowers, and their year-old son Adam, made the first of what was to become a series of regular visits to St. Ives. Setting out to photograph the artists and writers who had made the town famous, during this first visit Adrian also photographed other aspects of Cornish life, including carpenters at work and a traditional mummer.
Denis Mitchell (1912 – 1993) A sequence of photographs document the studio of Denis Mitchell. An abstract sculptor, working mainly in wood and bronze, Mitchell was an early member of the St. Ives group, having moved to Cornwall from Wales in 1930. Located in the former workshop of plumbers W. F. Smithson, his studio was a timber and corrugated iron building, in a cobbled courtyard off one of the town’s narrow streets. The entrance was decorated with abstract paint marks, perhaps made by Mitchell himself. Upstairs, the interior contained a cast iron stove, workbenches and timber sculptures. The whitewashed walls were decorated with paintings, antelope antlers and an African mask. At the side of the studio was an improvised rack for holding lengths of timber.
Present that September day were Mitchell, Stanley Dorfman and Terry Frost. Angela and young Adam were there also. Mitchell, then in his early ‘40s, was photographed sitting in an Victorian armchair, hand under chin, looking grave and thoughtful. Since moving to Cornwall twenty-four years earlier, he and his brother Endell had contrived to make a living in St. Ives, renovating houses and growing vegetables and flowers. St. Ives was famous for its early spring flowers, violets and the yellow narcissus Soleil D’or. In 1938 Endell became landlord of the Castle Inn on Fore Street, the pub that was later to be the birthplace of the Penwith Society. Around this time Denis, working in a craft market, met Jane Stevens; they married in 1939 and were to have three daughters. During WWII, Mitchell worked in the local tin mines, learning to hew stone deep in the narrow mine shafts. He also served in the Home Guard, where he met the potter Bernard Leach and art critic Adrian Stokes. Encouraged by Leach, in 1946 Mitchell joined the St. Ives Society of Artists, and three years later was taken on as an assistant by Barbara Hepworth at Trewyn Studio. When Adrian photographed him, he had been working with Hepworth for five years, learning the art and craft of abstract sculpture. In 1955 he became chairman of the Penwith Society, and later joined John Wells at his Trewarveneth Studio in Newlyn. Mitchell is credited with inspiring many younger artists, including Broen O’Casey and Conor Fallon. Another photograph by Adrian shows Dorfman and Mitchell standing together in the studio, with Frost descending the staircase. This introduction to the artists of St. Ives ultimately led Angela, some years later, to open her first gallery in London. For two decades Mitchell was one of her leading artists. A major exhibition of his work opened at the Angela Flowers Gallery in March 1993, just before his death.
Stanley Dorfman A television and film producer, renowned for introducing Top of the Pops to BBC audiences in the 1960’s, Stanley Dorfman was born in Johannesburg, South Africa. Aged nineteen he began to study architecture, but switched instead to fine art and in 1946 was awarded a scholarship to the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. After spending six years in France, Dorfman and his wife and children went back to South Africa to see his parents, but they found the political system there repellent. In 1954, he moved to England, settling in the artists’ colony of St. Ives, where he worked as a studio assistant to Barbara Hepworth, while continuing to develop his own art. His wife and children remained in South Africa until Dorfman could afford to bring them to Europe. His paintings from this early period are hard-edged abstract works, with strong flat colours and titles such as Vertical St. Ives (Paul), Blue and Brown Study, and Composition with Four Rectangles. His 1954 painting Across the Bay features abstracted hard-edge waves.
He also created three-dimensional panels which, while paying homage to Mondrian and De Stijl, hark back to mosaic designs and wall pieces he had made in South Africa. In South Africa also, Dorfman had organised music concerts, featuring jazz musicians. This interest in music remained with him, and in 1964 he left St. Ives to work as an art director with BBC television, then as producer and director of the popular weekly music programme Top of the Pops. Meeting Dick Clark who had travelled from the United States to England in search of new talent, Dorfman began to alternate between New York and London. He a created a series for the BBC called ‘In Concert’, beginning with Randy Newman, and followed by Joni Mitchell. In 1968 he had Leonard Cohen on the show. During his long career in British film and television, Dorfman directed over two hundred shows, with musicians such as the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Elton John and David Bowie. In 1974 he decided to relocate to Los Angeles, where he directed and produced music videos for many artists, from Robert Plant to Emmy Lou Harris. He took over Dick Clark’s In Concert series and also worked with Yoko Ono on videos, made using footage taken by John Lennon. He collaborated with David Bowie on two videos, Be My Wife and Heroes, both from 1977, and both in the collection of MoMA. After a career as music producer and director, Dorfman returned to painting. His later works, more lyrical and painterly, often reference music, as in La Bamba and Imagine. His partner of some forty years is the actor Barbara Flood. Dorfman currently lives in Los Angeles, and exhibits his paintings there at The Lodge gallery.
Terry Frost (1915 – 2003) A second visit by the Flowers family to St. Ives followed in December 1954, and a subsequent visit in May 1956, when Adrian photographed Terry and Kathleen Frost, with their young sons Adrian and Anthony. The group assembled on Smeaton’s Pier, with the harbour and Wharf in the background. Terry’s warm and convivial personality shines through in these images. He and Kath took raising a large family in their stride. He would often get up at 6am, to take the toddlers for a walk on the quay. In one shot, he holds up Anthony, while pointing to the sky.
Born in Leamington Spa, Warwickshire in 1915, Frost had led a varied life before coming to St. Ives. The son of an artilleryman, he left school aged fourteen to work first at a cycle repair shop, then at Armstrong-Whitworth, the company renowned for its battleships and locomotives (and also for the universal ‘Whitworth’ thread that standardised nuts and bolts). By the time Frost went to work for the company at Coventry, it was called Vickers-Armstrong, and was making Whitley bombers, on the wings and fuselages of which he painted RAF roundels. Having enlisted in the Territorials, during WWII Frost served in France, Palestine and Greece. Fighting with the commandos in Crete in June 1941, he was taken prisoner and spent the rest of the war in POW camps. At Stalag 383 in Bavaria, he found he had a talent for sketching portraits of fellow prisoners, using canvases made from hessian pillowcases, primed with glue size made from barley soup. The brushes were made from horsehair. He painted around two hundred portraits, and also met the artist Adrian Heath who encouraged him to take up painting as a profession. Having studied with Stanhope Forbes in Newlyn, Heath was familiar with Cornwall and its tradition of welcoming artists. Frost credited the semi-starvation he experienced during the war as helping him achieve a higher level of spiritual awareness; this no doubt contributed to the qualities of alertness and intellectual presence that characterise his art in the post-war period. After the war, on returning to England, Frost enrolled firstly at the Birmingham College of Art, then at Camberwell School of Art. In 1945, he married Kathleen Clarke, who had worked in aircraft factory during the war. The following year, forgoing a job as a lightbulb salesman, and availing of his soldiers’ back pay that had built up during years of imprisonment, he moved to St. Ives with Kath and their first-born son. They lived in Headland Row, overlooking Porthmeor beach, while he attended the St. Ives School of Art, and also worked in a café to make ends meet. The St. Ives School was run by Leonard Fuller and Marjorie Mostyn, both dedicated artists: Fuller painted a portrait of Terry Frost with his young son on his knee. In 1947 Frost’s first exhibition Paintings with Knife and Brush was held at Downing’s bookshop. Returning to Camberwell in 1948, he studied under Victor Pasmore, Ben Nicholson and William Coldstream. Pasmore was at this time moving towards abstraction, and Frost followed his lead. Although Madrigal, his first abstract painting, dates from 1949, when the Frosts were back living at 12 Quay Street, on the St. Ives seafront, it is the Cubist-inspired Walk along the Quay, painted the following year, that is regarded as his breakthrough, its bold composition dominated by semi-circles, interrupted by vertical linear areas of blue and khaki green. Walk Along the Quay is the first in a series of paintings, done on hardboard, that show an increasing confidence with abstraction. Another work from this period, Brown and Yellow (c1951-2), is in the Tate collection (although the Tate was initially slow to acquire a work by Frost). Many of his paintings from these years suggest draped fabrics, or the Cornish landscape with long fields terminating in angular cliff edges, as in Blue Winter (1956). Frost showed for three years with the St Ives Society of Artists, and was elected a member of the more progressive Penwith Society. For many years he made prints with Hugh Stoneman. During the 1950’s he exhibited regularly with the Leicester Galleries in London and also taught at Bath Academy, the University of Leeds, and in Cyprus. Although Frost joined the London Group in 1958, over the following decade a new generation of mostly London-based artist came to the fore. As sales of his work flagged, he ceased to show with the Waddington Gallery, and increasingly turned to teaching to help support the family, while continuing to pursue his own art. After Leeds, the Frosts moved to Banbury, Oxfordshire, where they lived between 1963 and 1974, with Terry lecturing at the University of Reading. In the early 1960’s he undertook a residency at San Jose in California, experimenting with new acrylic paints, and also teaching at the University of California. He showed in New York, beginning with the Barbara Schaeffer gallery in 1960, where he met Mark Rothko and other leading artists. In 1992, Frost was elected a Royal Academician and six years later was knighted. He and Kath had six children in all: five sons, Adrian, Anthony, Matthew, Stephen and Simon, and one daughter, Kate. Stephen is an actor, while Adrian and Anthony followed in their father’s footsteps as artists; Anthony still lives and working in St. Ives. When Alan Bowness was appointed director of Tate, he initiated the idea of a contemporary art museum in Cornwall, to celebrate the work of Frost, Heron, Hepworth and the many other artists who had forged a new approach to art in Britain in the 1950’s. When Tate St. Ives opened in 1993, a large banner by Frost, painted on Newlyn sailcloth, was displayed in the entrance. Terry Frost died in Cornwall in 2003. Twelve years later, on the centenary of his birth, a retrospective exhibition of his work was held at Tate St. Ives.
In the 1956 Smeaton Pier photograph are Terry and Kath Frost, flanked by their sons Adrian and Anthony. To their left is the poet and budding architect David Lewis, who had come to Britain from South Africa (the girl beside Lewis has not been identified). After moving to St. Ives, Lewis became secretary of the Penwith Society and promoter of the town’s artists. Like Frost, Mitchell, Hilton, Dorfman and others, he worked for a time as an assistant to Barbara Hepworth. In 1949, Lewis married Wilhelmina Barnes-Graham. However, seven years later he departed Cornwall, to study architecture in Leeds and to work with Peter Stead on modernist housing. This led to a new career in the United States, where he taught at Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh and was a co-founder of Urban Design Associates (UDA). In 1985 Lewis was the catalyst for the retrospective exhibition St. Ives: 1939-64, at the Tate Gallery. Other photographs on that same contact sheet include shots of terraced granite houses on Back Road, and a Land Rover parked on Teetotal Street, where David Lewis lived at No. 4. A narrow thoroughfare, Teetotal Street has changed little over the years, although now it is littered with green wheelie bins. In another photograph, Kath and the girl stand beside a clinker-built boat drawn up on the solid granite setts of the pier; today the boats are gone, their place taken by brightly-coloured plastic surf boards. However surfing has been popular in Cornwall for many years, and in the summer of 1955, the beaches were thronged with holiday-makers, many of them carrying small plywood surfboards.
In 1967, Penguin paperbacks published the London Dossier by Len Deighton. The book comprised essays on London by people who knew the city well, including Adrian Bailey, Jane Wilson, Spike Hughes and, of course, Adrian Flowers. A brief biography, written by Deighton, introduces the chapter on photography written by Flowers, and also throws light on their friendship:
Born in the general depression, is still recovering. A typical cancerian who moves sideways out of trouble. His main occupation is advertising and editorial photography. He has taken food pictures for the Observer and took the cover photo of Twiggy for this book. His studio in Tite Street, Chelsea, is crammed full of equipment, all of which he insists is absolutely necessary. His home is in Kentish Town, where he keeps his wife, three sons, one daughter, a dog and a cat, and an au pair girl. He owns four old cars, which are shared by his assistants, and a launch for touring the Thames. Keeps fit by playing football every day with his faithful bitch, Sarah. His aim in life, apart from keeping his wife happy, is to take the picture of all time.
In his essay in London Dossier Flowers advises the aspiring photographer to first of all buy an umbrella, at James Smith & Son, 53 New Oxford Street. This landmark at the corner of New Oxford Street and Shaftesbury Avenue still sells—according to its tarnished and extravagant Edwardian window signage, dagger canes, swordsticks, tropical sunshades, Irish blackthorns and umbrellas. “Get a large one and on leaving take a picture of this changeless shop” wrote Flowers, adding that even the act of carrying an umbrella, for the superstitious, might prevent rain. Although Smith’s survives, all the independent specialist photography shops mentioned by Flowers are now gone; their place taken by chains such as Jessops and the recently-merged Wex and Calumet. Specialising in Flowers’ favourite camera, the Hasselblad, the Photo Centre in Piccadilly Arcade has long since given way to a shoe shop, while Dixons on Oxford Street is now home to a Carphone Warehouse.
At 93 Fleet Street, the venerable Wallace Heaton shop, notwithstanding its royal warrant, is now an outlet for mobile phones. Many of the early negatives in the Adrian Flowers Archive are preserved in distinctive green Wallace Heaton envelopes. The company, which also had a shop at 127 Bond Street and published the famous photographers “Blue Book”, was taken over in 1972 by Dixons.
Likewise, Pelling & Cross at 104 Baker Street, specialising in Voigtlander cameras, is gone, while Kafetz Cameras, down the road at 234 Baker Street, is now home to Vy’s Nails. Flowers identified the Kodak Instamatic and Voigtlander Bessy-K cameras as most suitable for beginners. For more serious photographers he recommended the Nikkormat, with 28, 50 and 105mm lenses, but for maximum versatility, he suggested the half-frame Olympus Pen D2 or Canon Dial. Agfa CT 18 film was good at capturing the grey London fogs, but Flowers warned that the colours red and green were inescapable, in a city full of buses, parks, guardsmen and pillar boxes. The budding photographer was invited to go to St. James’s Park at three in the afternoon, when the pelicans were fed with herring. Moving on from there, the top of Lambeth Palace would afford a panoramic view familiar to Canaletto. However if admittance to the palace proved difficult, Flowers suggested the landing stage by the river, where the Decca radar company had established its head office. Moving along, the photographer would head to the Beefeaters and ravens at the Tower of London—the latter best photographed from the top of the Port of London Authority, and from thence proceed to Tower Bridge. Flowers includes in his itinerary that ‘quarter mile of sordidness for the sinister-seeking’; the area of East London made infamous by Jack the Ripper, with Christchurch at its centre. “Ripper’s Corner in Mitre Square has only one wall remaining. This is where the body of Catherine Eddowes, his fourth victim, was found. I suppose it is like collecting pregnant silences on tape, but even so, if you are interested in Jack the Ripper and have read all about the rippings, the experience of photographing this bit of wall will have a strange effect on you. The wall is in the southerly corner and should be taken in the gloom of dusk with the aid of the gas lamps that are still there.” [Len Deighton’s London Dossier Penguin Books 1967, p. 150] After these dubious thrills, the reader was encouraged to explore Thrawl Street, and Flower and Dean Street (Flowery Dean). Commercial Road, Puma Court and Hanbury Street. Wilkes Street led to the Gilead Medical Mission, an organisation dedicated to bringing the Gospel to the Jews, not to be confused with present-day Gilead Science. Many Shoreditch slums had been cleared by then, the ‘Old Nichol’ being replaced by the splendid Arts and Crafts Boundary Estate. Flowers dwells on the area’s association with slaughter houses and butchers, singling out the Jolly Butchers pub (formerly the Turk and Slave) in Cabbage Court, 157 Brick Lane, as a good subject. The setting for an unofficial morning jewellery market in the 1960’s, the Jolly Butcher closed in 1987 and now houses a café, sandwiched between two bagel shops. “To round off the visit, not forgetting to visit some dark and sinister laneways, wend your way to the Cosy Café in Cheshire Street.” [p. 150] Famed for its egg, bacon and bubble, this establishment is also sadly no longer in business. The building survives, just about, in a boring modern streetscape utterly devoid of character. Beside the Cosy Café, an alley led to a footbridge over the railway lines.
Flowers recommended twilight as the best time of day for taking photographs in London, singling out the Victoria Embankment, and the promenade between Westminster and Lambeth bridges on the south side, as good for night shooting. “Trafalgar Square is worth taking at dusk. . . During the day Nelson can still look admirable without his column, apparently standing on a wooden box when viewed from Carlton House Terrace. At the end of this terrace is an unusually well-preserved example of bomb damage, contrasting strangely with the surroundings.” [p. 150] For explorations of Soho, Flowers recommended beginning in Compton Street, and that the photographer try to look like a tourist ‘to avoid being lynched’.
Not long after opening in 1959, at the corner of Dean Street and Romilly Street in Soho, the Trattoria Terrazza had become one of London’s most popular eating places for people from the world of theatre and advertising. Run by Franco Lagattolla and Mario Cassandro, the “Trat” had genuine Italian friendliness and style, and served good Italian food. Less formal than Le Caprice or the Ivy, more exciting than other Soho eateries such as L’Epicerie or Wheelers, nothwithstanding Francis Bacon and Lucien Freud occasionally holding court in the latter, it was a fun place to meet, attracting regulars such as David Puttnam, Raymond Hawkey, Len Deighton and Adrian and Angela Flowers. Deighton wrote passages of The Ipcress File at the Trat, including mention of its cuisine, and it was here he met Michael Caine, before the novel and film brought both fame. While Cassandro was outgoing and charming, not a little of Lagatolla’s more reserved style is captured in the persona of Harry Palmer created by Caine. Other diners included David Niven, Brian Duffy, Julie Christie, Terence Stamp, David Bailey and Jean Shrimpton. The interior was remodelled in the 1960’s by Enzo Apicella, who created a spare, white Modernist space, while retaining a rustic flavour, with tiled floor, rush-covered seats and rough-plastered walls—a style emulated by countless other trattoria that sprang up in Britain over the following years, and is still exemplified in better restaurants such as Scalini’s in Chelsea. Flowers’ night snapshot of the exterior shows the cheerful neon sun motif that reflected the Trat’s legendary charm and style. No 19 Romilly St is today occupied by Le Relais de Venise, a dull steak and chips establishment with an exterior of gothic lettering and scumbled wood that caters mainly to tourists.
Flowers also suggested hiring a taxi to tour the streets slowly ‘you can get many fascinating shots this way’. Leicester Square was best photographed from Cranbourn Street, while Lower Regent Street provided the best view of Piccadilly Circus.
Even with fast film, the photographer would need a tripod to capture flashing neon lights at night. Battersea Park, with its Henry Moore sculpture, was on the itinerary, with the nearby power station chimneys still belching out smoke. The 29th of May, Oak Apple Day, saw pensioners of the Royal Hospital Chelsea on parade, while the Chelsea Flower Show, also held in May, was a treat, particularly at 4pm on the last day, when plants were sold off cheaply. ‘If you could get a hundred viewpoints at once, you’d have the film of the year.’ observed Flowers drily. Leather Market Street south of Guy’s Hospital on Friday mornings, and the Caledonian Market on Bermondsey Street, were charming to photograph, as were Portobello Road and Petticoat Lane. Flowers was less comfortable with Victorian architecture – ‘If wild monstrosities are your passion start with the Albert Memorial’. Berkeley Square, King’s Road, Chelsea – ‘If you want to see and not be seen, a good tip is to grab a window table in the pub called the Chelsea Potter about midday.’ Horse riding at Rotten Row, Hyde Park, every morning, and the dray horses still used by Whitbread Brewery in Chiswell Street and Watney’s Mortlake brewery. St. Paul’s Cathedral was a favourite. The viewing terrace of the Shell Building could be visited for two and sixpence, but closed at four in the afternoon, which was disappointing for photographers hoping to shoot at twilight. The GPO tower was also disappointing, due to haze, but the Monument provided a good view of Tower Bridge. Flowers recommended the Tudor houses at Holborn, Chancery Lane, and Lincoln Inn Old Buildings, where barristers in their regalia could be seen at lunchtime. Other sights included the Old Curiosity Shop, and men wearing bowler hats, still a common sight at London Bridge in the morning, and at Cornhill and Lombard Street.
Photographers were advised to take the 214 bus from Tottenham Court Road to Highgate West Hill, and to go through Hampstead Heath, on to Kenwood House, and then to the Spaniard pub. They would then to take the 210 bus to Highgate Village, and from there walk down Swains Lane to the cemetery, for Flowers a place he held sacred as the burial place of the pioneer of photography William Friese-Greene. Regent’s Park Zoo and Tilbury Docks, the bridge on the River Thames, all received honourable mention, while Flowers recommended photographing the London Policeman ‘still proudly not carrying a gun’. The Roman wall at Cooper’s Row, off Trinity Square, the Natural History Museum, the Science Museum and London’s fire stations were all on the list. Flowers highlighted details such as cast iron railings, although many of these had been melted down during WWII. His final suggestion was to go to a theatre near Covent Garden, eat and drink into the early hours at one of the specially licenced pubs “Then, at 4 or 5 in the morning use stamina to judge, with an unjaundiced eye, the picture-making possibilities of the famous flower and fruit markets.” [p. 157]
While the first edition of Deighton’s spy novel Horse Under Water, published by Jonathan Cape in 1963, contains many action scenes centring on the discovery of a U-Boat sunk off the Portugese coast in the last days of WWII, it is in the paperback edition, published by Penguin, that the author introduced an additional early episode, in which the British agent trains as a scuba diver at the HMS Vernon base in Portsmouth. As always, Deighton carried out detailed research before writing, managing to get permission to go to Portsmouth and not only witness navy divers undergoing training, but to experience what it was like for himself:
Adrian Flowers accompanied Deighton on this trip to Portsmouth, photographing both the author and navy divers. For Flowers, it was in many ways a homecoming, as his mother’s uncle Alfred West, a photographer and pioneering cinematographer at the turn of the twentieth century, had specialised in photographing and filming the Royal Navy. In 1898, West had photographed torpedo practice in Portsmouth. He also filmed Charles Parsons’ experimental steamship Turbinia, and gave demonstrations of his films at Osborne House. In 1913 he sold his yachting negatives to Beken of Cowes (they are now with the Brett Gallery) but most of his films, made under the ‘Our Navy’ title, are now lost. Adrian’s childhood was spent at “Atherstone” on St. David’s Road, just ten minutes’ walk from Alfred West’s photography studios at Palmerston Road, Southsea.
Deighton put his brief training session at Portsmouth to good use. Descriptions of diving occupy much of the first half of Horse Under Water, as various characters compete to gain access to the treasures on the sunken vessel. The plot moves along at bewildering speed, and it is not revealed until the end of the novel that the race to retrieve items from the submarine wreck has been prompted by the existence of a list of people in the UK who were prepared to collaborate in a German occupation of Britain. This theme of betrayal, touched upon in many of Deighton’s novels and short stories, forms the basis of his later novel SS GB. In Horse Under Water, it is revealed that the former Royal Navy officer ‘Fernie’, a dodgy character who gets involved in the submarine dives, had been earlier recruited into the ‘League of St. George’, influential people who hoped to form a Nazi Party in Britain. As always, Deighton brings his narrative to life with vivid descriptions of people and places, as befits his experience as an illustrator. He also introduces lively references to 1960’s music and consumer culture, including Miles Davis, Charlie Mingus, Tio Pepe Sherry, Omo washing powder etc. Although Adrian Flowers’ photograph of the actor Michael Caine is used in the Penguin edition cover, Horse Under Water was never made into a film.
BOMBERS AND FIGHTERS
On 3 Jan 1971, in The New York Times, Len Deighton reviewed an autobiographical account by Peter Townsend of the Battle of Britain and the events leading up to it, in which Townsend described an aerial duel between a Hurricane fighter and a Heinkel III bomber. Two years before, when working on Bomber, his own dramatised account of an RAF night attack during WWII, Deighton had carried out detailed research on aircraft of the period, particularly the Heinkel III. On August 15 1969, he was invited to join the crew in a restored Heinkel which was being flown from England to Siegerland airfield, near Cologne. The aircraft was in fact a post-war machine, one of several hundred built under license by CASA for the Spanish air force. Thirty or so of these Spanish Heinkels were used in the 1969 film The Battle of Britain. Although it was planned to fly the Heinkel over the city of Cologne as a promotion for the film, this publicity stunt was cancelled, not least because many of the inhabitants had died in air raids by the RAF during WWII. The following year, after a few demonstration flights, the Heinkel was grounded at Siegersland for safety reasons. It was subsequently acquired by the Deutsches Museum and is now fully restored and on display in the Flugwerft Schleissheim—but with Spanish air force rather than Luftwaffe livery.
Before the flight took off on August 15th, Adrian Flowers photographed Deighton, both standing in front of the Heinkel, and also inside the cockpit. The research undertaken by Deighton during this period informed his writing of Fighter, published in 1977. One of the chapters in Fighter is titled “Inside a Heinkel He III”.
While working on Bomber, Deighton leased from IBM a new device called an MT/ST (Magnetic Tape Selectric Typewriter)—an early word-processor—and had it installed in his home in Merrick Square, near Elephant and Castle. Adrian Flowers photographed Deighton in his home office, surrounded by typewriters, the IBM word processor and filing cabinets. Although he surrounded himself with high technology, some of the energy evident in Deighton’s prose style may derive from the down-to-earth fact that he liked to write while standing rather than sitting.
Among Len Deighton’s best-loved cookery books are Ou Est Le Garlic? (1966), Basic French Cooking (Jonathan Cape 1979), ABC of French Food and Basic French Cookery Course. However it is his Action Cook Book, first published in 1965 and later re-issued as French Cooking for Men, that best retains the fresh and breezy appeal of ‘sixties London. The Action Cook Book is a compilation of Deighton’s ‘Cookstrips’ published in the Observer between 1962 and 1966. The deceptively simple graphic style and hand-drawn fonts of the Action Cook Book remain innovative today, and have inspired a new generation of publications in which comic-book art and texts are combined. In 2015, celebrating the success of the 1960’s Cookstrips, Len Deighton and his son Alex began collaborating on a new series for the Observer Food Monthly Magazine. While retaining Len’s style of simple images and hand-drawn lettering, these new strips are drawn by Alex, and have introduced readers to a wide range of world cuisine.
With its cover designed by Raymond Hawkey and photography by Adrian Flowers, the Action Cook Book was stylish, modern and met a growing demand among readers for information on good food. Its success led to a second Deighton cookbook, Ou Est le Garlic? As a child, Deighton had learned inventive cuisine from his mother, Dorothy (née Fitzgerald), who occasionally cooked for a London nightclub. Using ingredients exempt from food rationing, she created dishes that were given colourful names in the menu, such as ‘sweet and sharp tongue’. In an interview with John Walsh in the Independent (23 Oct 2011), Deighton described how, during summer vacations from art college, he had worked as a kitchen porter at the restaurant in the Royal Festival Hall: “One day I was mopping the floor when the fish chef asked me if I would do some jobs for him, as his assistant hadn’t arrived. My first task was skinning Dover soles. I must have been a good student because he then showed me how to fillet them. From then onwards, my days were spent as unofficial assistant to the fish chef, though I was still paid only porter’s wages. I once asked my chef why he’d chosen me for this sudden elevation. He said everyone had noticed the way I ‘hung around watching the cooks’. He was right.” In addition to summer jobs in London and Paris, Deighton also attributed his culinary education to Philip Harben, television’s first celebrity chef.
Following the success of his first spy thriller The Ipcress File, Deighton moved to Jonathan Cape, who in 1963 published his second novel, Horse Under Water. This was followed by Funeral in Berlin and three years later, The Billon Dollar Brain appeared, which, along with An Expensive Place to Die, published in 1967, confirmed his status as writer of gripping and complex stories, spy thrillers that were neither as melancholic as Le Carré’s, nor as simplistic as Fleming’s. In addition to the novels and cookbooks, he wrote non-fiction history books, mainly on WWII topics.
However, even in his spy novels, food and cooking are a constant motif. In the opening pages of The Billion Dollar Brain, Alice runs up the stairs of the Charlotte Street offices with a tin of Nescafé, while the anonymous hero later has lunch in Trattoria Terrazza, enjoying ‘Tagliatelle alla carbonara, osso buco, coffee’ before being provided with a false passport that identifies him as one Liam Dempsey, born in Cork. In the first chapter of Funeral in Berlin, Hallam drinks his Darjeeling tea from an antique Meissen cup, and eats custard cream biscuits, while discussing the defection of a Soviet scientist. Later, in describing how to fry up breakfast, Deighton describes how the pan must cleaned with paper, not water, before cooking begins. However his self-description – ‘a supercilious anti-public-school technician’ wearing ‘mass-produced, off the peg clothes’ – is revealing. Much of Deighton’s success as a writer stemmed from these sharp barbs, in which few were spared. In Chapter 15, it may well be his friend Adrian Flowers who is referred to in a pub conversation:
A man with a paisley scarf tucked inside an open-necked shirt was saying, ‘He’s the best damn photographer in the country but he’s a thousand guineas a shot.’ A man with suede chukka boots said, ‘Our deep frozen fish-fingers nearly beat him. I said, “Make the beastly things out of plaster, old boy’ we’ll get the piping hot effect by burning incense.” We did too. Ha, ha! Put the sales up six and three-quarter per cent and he got some kind of Art Director’s award.’ He laughed a deep, manly laugh and sloshed down some beer.
In reality, Flowers prided himself on using real ingredients in his food photography, as in the above image of fish fingers, taken for Birds Eye. Although he had championed photography while a student at the Royal College of Art, Deighton in his novels sometimes seems to have had it in for photographers—part of the self-deprecating style that made his novels so attractive to readers tired of literary narcissism and improbable heroes.
In Chapter 18 of An Expensive Place to Die, the scene in Les Chiens bar—’hot, dark and squirming, like a can of live bait’—sums up something about Deighton’s attitude to both himself and the camera shutter. “On a staircase a wedge of people were embracing and laughing like advertising photos. At the bar a couple of English photographers were talking in cockney and an English writer was explaining James Bond.” A brawl then erupts when one of the photographers punches the writer, who is about to read a Baudelaire sonnet.
“There was a scuffle going on at the top of the staircase, and then violence travelled through the place like a flash flood. Everyone was punching everyone, girls were screaming and the music seemed to be even louder than before. A man hurried a girl along the corridor past me. ‘It’s those English that make the trouble,’ he complained.” When An Expensive Place to Die was ready for publishing, Hawkey produced a range of different cover designs, each of which incorporated photographs taken by Flowers.
Deighton married twice; the first time to fellow Royal College of Art student, the illustrator Shirley Thompson. Len and Shirley divorced in the mid 1970’s. Len’s second marriage, in February 1980, at Holte in the Netherlands, was to Ysabele, daughter of Johan Antoni and Frederika de Ranitz. A career diplomat, in the late 1940’s, Johan de Ranitz served as first secretary at the Netherlands Embassy in Sydney, Australia. Born in 1941 in the Netherlands, Ysabele is also is also the niece of WWII hero Eric Haselhof Roelfzema, whose autobiographical Soldier of Orange in 1977 was made into a Paul Verhoeven-directed film. Over the years she has assisted Deighton in translations and research. They have two sons, Frederick Alexander and Antoni. Over the years, Flowers photographed the Deighton family on several occasions, including visiting Len when he lived in Ireland, in the seaside village of Blackrock, Co. Louth.
Having met while both were in the Royal Air Force in the late 1940’s, Adrian Flowers and Len Deighton (b.1929) became close friends. Over the years, as Deighton’s career as illustrator, novelist and cookery writer evolved, Flowers photographed him many times. The photographs in the Adrian Flowers Archive range from personal family shots, to publicity photos, to images of Deighton pursuing his favourite occupation, cooking. The earlier photographs were taken in Deighton’s council flat at Elephant and Castle, before he and his wife Shirley moved to a more stylish Georgian house off Borough Road, where they were better able to entertain friends. There are also family snapshots, taken when Flowers visited Deighton’s home in Blackrock, a coastal village in Co. Louth, Ireland. Deighton later moved to the Channel Islands, where he still lives. Another set of photographs show Deighton standing in front of a Heinkel 111 aeroplane and were part of the promotion for Bomber his novel recounting a night raid by the RAF over Germany.
The son of a chauffeur and a cook, Len Deighton was born in Marylebone and grew up in Gloucester Place Mews, a narrow street in central London, between Marble Arch and Regent’s Park. In 1947, he enlisted for two years’ national service with the Royal Air Force, training as a photographer with the Special Investigations Branch. During this time he met Adrian Flowers, who also training as a photographer with the RAF. After completing his military service, Deighton enrolled at St. Martin’s School of Art and in 1953 won a scholarship to the Royal College of Art, where he and Raymond Hawkey—who was to become a lifelong friend—edited the college magazine Ark. A decade later, in an interview for Town magazine, journalist Jane Wilson wrote about Deighton’s student days: “As an art student he took the then revolutionary step of illustrating Ark with photographs and was generally known as ‘The Photographer’. Students at RCA are now so cool they can hardly stand up, and so mod they can hardly sit down. Ark is so avant-garde it’s inexplicable and so design-conscious you can’t read the sans-serif. But in Deighton’s day life was more gracious and students tended to wear dark suits. So to be called a photographer was like being called a garage mechanic.” [Jane Wilson “How to Succeed without Really Spying”, Town, April 1965, Vol 6, No. 4, p. 43] Notwithstanding Wilson’s reservations, Hawkey became renowned for his use of bold graphic images and san serif fonts, and is best remembered today for his cover designs for the James Bond novels, published in the 1960’s by Pan. After graduating from the RCA in 1955, Deighton also designed book covers, among them the first British edition of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road.
Coming from a working class background, Deighton could easily identify with Kerouac’s hero Moriarty, and his jacket design, with its references to jazz and American culture, is very much in the spirit of the times. During his time at St. Martin’s, Deighton lived at Moor Street, close to Cambridge Circus, and occasionally stayed at Flowers’ maisonette in England’s Lane. In 1960, Deighton and a fellow-illustrator Shirley Thompson were married. In 1961, having been appointed head graphic designer at the Observer, Hawkey commissioned Adrian Flowers to take photographs for the magazine’s cover and the following year he commissioned Deighton to produce a series of cartoon-like “Cookstrips” for the Observer. In making the recipes of Catherine David and other chefs accessible to a wide audience, Deighton’s series was a great success and ran for four years. His cover for Kerouac’s novel and the Cookstrips are similar in style, combining hand-drawn bold fonts with simple graphics. The style is direct, modern and easy to understand.
In 1962 also, Deighton’s first novel, The Ipcress File, was published. Largely based on Deighton himself, the hero Harry Palmer was working-class, cynical and tough. However, this cocky spy, from Burnley in Lancashire, was also an unexpected aesthete, a devotee of fine French cookery and classical music. These things mattered to Deighton. In real life, while working in London’s advertising world, he had been one of the few in his agency not educated at public school. In contrast, Adrian Flowers, always impeccable in shirt and tie, had attended Sherborne School in Dorset. As a novel, The Ipcress File is less about espionage than an exposé of the British class system, which at that time was undergoing one of its periodic convulsions, with ambitious working-class youngsters laying siege to the bastions of the establishment. Although Deighton often modelled his characters on people he knew, in The Ipcress File, Adrian Flowers does not seem to make an appearance. In making a star of the young Michael Caine, the film version of The Ipcress file confirmed Deighton in the public eye as one of the great spy story-tellers of his day. Caine’s portrayal of Harry Palmer is perfect, right down to the dexterous slicing of green peppers and onions, as he prepares a meal in his flat for Jean (Sue Lloyd). The kitchen is furnished with cafetieres, copper saucepans from Madame Cadec’s, and—in a neat touch—copies of Deighton’s Observer cookstrips, pinned to the wall.
The early photographs of Deighton taken by Adrian Flowers are gritty, with strong contrast between black and white. Standing the kitchen of his flat in Elephant and Castle, Deighton, wearing white shirt and tie, tea-towel tucked in his waistband, brandishes a frying pan with gusto, as he holds court. The kitchen is a clutter of mortar and pestle, eggs, enamel jugs, spoons, knives. On the table, a cutting board, onions, lemons, a tin of olive oil and packets of herbs labelled ‘Aromes de Provence’. On the window sill behind, a bottle of cider vinegar and a clockwork timer. On a counter near the camera, the lens cover for a Pentax camera. Behind it a blowtorch—presumably for crème brulee—and a large stockpot. In another photograph, taken on a different occasion in the same kitchen, Deighton demonstrates the single-handed cracking of an egg into a bowl, echoing Michael Caine’s cooking skills in The Ipcress File. In these photos, Deighton wears a khaki military-style shirt. The walls of the kitchen are white—in the first series, they are decorated with reproductions of Dutch tiles. On the windowsill is a railwayman’s lantern, an artefact clearly of significance for Deighton, perhaps a momento of his father’s or grandfather’s occupation or military service. On the wall above the cooker hangs a bouquet of bay leaves. On the windowsill—wonder of modern wonders—an electric blender. In these photographs, Deighton wears an apron printed with Victorian woodcut images of men. His tie tucked into the khaki shirt, he peers quizzically at the camera, seemingly nervous in the presence of the photographer. Again, a shot taken in the dining room of the flat, standing at the door beside a Welsh dresser laden with willow pattern ware, Deighton makes a nervous gesture with his arm, while his wife Shirley, smiling and relaxed, reclines in a Thonet rocking chair in her stockinged feet. On top of the dresser the old lantern still has pride of place. Other photographs show the table decorated with flowers, fine china cups and plates. Deighton sits at the head of the table, holding a restive cat. He seems permanently wound up.
With The Ipcress File’s success, Deighton and his family moved from a council flat in Elephant and Castle, to a Georgian house near Borough Road in Southwark. With fame came attention, interviews and magazine articles. For the series “My Favourite Room” Edith Blair, editor at Woman magazine, visited the new Deighton home. When she admired the large wooden table in the kitchen, Deighton explained it had been his father’s carpentry workbench. [Woman, undated clipping, c. 1963] In the 1965 Jane Wilson interview for Town magazine, the cover was designed by Hawkey, with photography by Adrian Flowers. Wilson was low-key but efficient in her probing: “Deighton is understandably loth to talk about James Bond. But he did say, quietly, that he thought the books a little childish” With their simple themes of a hero overcoming titanic odds, the Bond stories affirmed individual free-enterprise capitalism, whereas Deighton’s novels were more nuanced, more authentic in detail, and Socialist at their core. Wilson understood what drove Deighton: “He says he remembers vividly the first time he heard himself described as an intellectual. He thought about it for days afterwards. He feels a bit bolshy and deprived when confronted with a highly polished Oxbridge product, and can put on quite a production about being working-class whenever it seems appropriate.” [Wilson, Town, p. 43]
A later series of images shows the same kitchen dresser from Elephant and Castle, with the same lantern, but this time in the Georgian house near Borough Road. The grimy kitchen floor has been replaced by chequered black and white tiles, gas cooker, stainless steel sink, and ample space for plates and cutlery. A pegboard wall is home to a variety of cooking implements, including mouli, sieves and rolling pin. The lantern on top of the dresser has now been joined by a German WWI helmet, complete with spike.
Using a cable release, Flowers sits at the table, dining with Deighton and a friend, taking a series of photographs as the evening progressed. Included in this series are photographs of Deighton working in his office, again an organised confusion, of angle-poise lights, magnetic tapes, shortwave radio, electric typewriter—all attesting to his love of new technology. But, on the wall hangs a medieval carving of a crucified Christ—perhaps another family momento from WWI. A sequence of shots of Deighton again reveal his nervousness in front of the camera, his hand constantly touching his forehead, patting his hair. There are shots of Deighton in his bathroom, wearing vest and trousers, shaving, and standing in front of a bookcase, with a map of downtown San Antonio, Texas, pinned to the wall. The titles on the spines of the books attest to his research interests: The Bridge at Remagen, V-2, The Edge of the Sword, Panzer Leader, Moscow, Stalingrad. Another image by Flowers, of a ‘top secret’ spy kit, Ministry of Defense Intelligence Unit WOOC (P) The Ipcress File, includes a copy of the novel that brought Deighton fame, along with a playing card, fountain pen, buttons and revolver.
One of the most vivacious and lively assistants who worked at the Adrian Flowers studio in the early 1970s was Gala Pinion. Although Gala—her name pronounced ‘Gayla’—started work at the studio around 1971, very few people knew that she had recently been engaged to the musician Syd Barrett, one of the founders of Pink Floyd. Gala and Syd were due to be married, but the engagement was called off, as Syd became prone to increasingly serious bouts of schizophrenia, an illness that had seen him leave Pink Floyd, to pursue a solo career as musician and artist.
Gala had met Syd Barrett through her friend Lindsay Corner, who also attended Ely School in Cambridgeshire, where Gala did her O levels in 1966. Shortly afterwards, in 1967, Syd and Corner, (also spelled Korner), had a romantic relationship, but they split up, and he and Gala, who was working at the Chelsea Drug Store, got together. She was attracted by his ‘mad attractiveness’ recalling that “he had the most extraordinary eyes and when he looked at you, you felt hopelessly caught”. In December 1968, Syd and a friend, the artist Duggie Fields, moved a flat in Weatherby Mansions in Earls Court. Not long afterwards, Gala joined them, renting the third room. On the cover of Barrett’s solo album A Madcap Laughs, a photograph shows Syd in the flat, with the bare floorboards painted with alternating bands of orange and turquoise blue. Syd’s Love Song, released on an EP, was dedicated to her. “I knew a girl and I like her still/She said she knew she would trust me.” On Syd’s second solo LP, Barrett, produced in 1970 by Dave Gilmour,the song “Wined and Dined” refers to a summer party in Cambridgeshire: “Wined and dined, oh it seemed just like a dream!/Girl was so kind/Kind of love I’d never seen” However, there is sadness in the final lines of the song, “Only last summer, it’s not so long ago/Just last summer/now musk winds blow”
After leaving Pink Floyd, Syd had taken up painting again, but his struggles with schizophrenia were not helped by excessive use of cannabis and LSD. Eventually, unable to cope with his sometimes violent behaviour, Gala moved out of the flat. Her room was taken over by a group of younger people, whose adulation of Barrett and pandering to his habits did not help his mental condition. He eventually left the flat, to return to his family home in Cambridge, where his widowed mother did her best to care for him. He moved back to Cambridge also to be close to Gala, who was working at the Joshua Taylor department store in the city. According to his friend Duggie, Syd even dreamed of becoming a doctor, getting married, and living a suburban life with Gala. Syd and Gala announced their engagement on 1st October 1970, finding a ring at the Antiquarius market on King’s Road. However, a celebration dinner with family members was not a success, and not long afterwards, with Syd becoming increasingly jealous and paranoid, the engagement was called off.
Six years later Gala bumped into Syd in a supermarket on Fulham Road, but his erratic behaviour led her to leave abruptly, never to see him again. After Gala, Syd had no other girlfriends. He lived quietly in Cambridge, and died of diabetes in 2006.
Gala went on to pursue her modelling career and to work at the Adrian Flowers studio. In 1971 she featured in the Michael Joseph photography shoot of a zany party scene for a billboard campaign for Fernet-Branca—the same image was used over two decades later for the LP “Funk Spectrum”. She also dated Gene Krell, co-founder of the “Granny Takes a Trip”, a boutique popularised by Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones. While she was at the Flowers Studio, photographer Steve Garforth recalls a work trip to the South of France, where Adrian was to photograph a car for an advertising campaign. Travelling in several vehicles, the team set off from London early one morning, taking the ferry to France and heading for Paris. However, their plan, to camp in the Bois de Boulogne, was upset by torrential rain and abandoning the tents they checked into a nearby hotel. Decorated in Louis XV style, the bedrooms provided an impromptu studio for the team to lark about, photographing each other.
Gala was popular in the AF studio even featuring on a witty postcard for the ‘Post Card Show’ at Angela Flowers Gallery, Lisle Street, in January 1971. Entitled “Gala’s Knees” the postcard was a homage to the 1970 Eric Rohmer film Claire’s Knee.* Ever restless, Gala moved on from the Adrian Flowers studio around 1974, going on to pursue her career in New York. A series of lively postcards she wrote to Adrian in the 1970s, from locations such as the Greek islands, Antigua, and New York, give a good idea of her fondness for travel and fun-loving personality.
cf: further reference to this shot can be found on a previous post on this blog – ‘Adrian Flowers: an appreciation’ by Matthew Flowers
Adrian Flowers: job no. 2025 June 1956 Anthony Hill (1930-2020), artist
Famed for its spielers, houses of ill-repute and establishments such as the Coach and Horses and l’Escargot, Greek Street is still today the centre of London’s bohemian quarter. Extending from Soho Square to Shaftesbury Avenue, over the centuries the street had been home to many artists, including Canaletto, Peter Turnerelli, Thomas Lawrence, Richard Westall and William Etty. In 1956, the artist Anthony Hill had a studio on Greek Street, where he was completing a series of abstract ‘concrete’ paintings and wall-mounted reliefs, in preparation for the forthcoming This is Tomorrow exhibition at the Whitechapel Art Gallery. (The term ‘concrete’ describing abstract works that refer to themselves rather than to external reality). In June of that year Adrian Flowers visited Hill’s studio, to photograph the artist and his work. The shots taken that day show that Hill was moving away from conventional oil paintings, preferring instead to make three-dimensional relief paintings/sculptures, using modern materials such as Perspex and aluminium. One of the works that appears in a Flowers’ photograph, Painting 55-56 (Tate collection) was among the last oil paintings made by the artist. Hill described this work as a study in texture and reductionism, with horizontal lines suggesting the canvas was bound by bands. However the photographs taken in 1956 by Flowers inadvertently—or perhaps deliberately—provide a gentle critique of the concept of ‘concrete’ paintings, in that one shot on the contact sheet shows two square windows of the Greek Street studio, with simple astragals, while the next is of Hill’s geometric abstract paintings with their slender cross-bars motifs. Not only did Flowers photograph the paintings, he also took a series of shots of Hill and his collaborator, sculptor John Ernest, standing over a set of free-standing modular cube-like structures. Hill and Ernest were both keen mathematicians, and worked together on ‘crossing number’ in graph theory, an area of research that directly informed Hill’s art.
Born in 1930 in London, from an early age Hill was fascinated, and indeed obsessed, by mathematics. At the age of seventeen he enrolled as a student at St. Martin’s School of Art, moving on two years later to the Central School. Initially working in a Dada and Surrealist style, his interest in mathematics led him to become interested in geometric abstraction, which he felt represented a more rational aesthetic. Visiting Paris in early 1950, he met Sonia Delaunay, George Vantongerloo (a founder member of De Stijl) and Francis Picabia. Another artist who influenced him was Frantisek Kupka, of the Orphic Cubism movement. Hill was particularly inspired by Piet Mondrian’s work and the following year joined the “Constructionist Group”, a late offshoot of the Constructivist movement associated with revolutionary Russia. Other members included Kenneth and Mary Martin, Adrian Heath, Roger Hilton, William Scott, Victor Pasmore and Robert Adams—the latter two were at the Central School at the same time as Hill. Publishing a manifesto-like Broadsheet that same year, the group showed their work both at Gimpel Fils and the AIA Gallery, in exhibitions entitled British Abstract Arts and Abstract Paintings Sculptures Mobiles respectively. The Constructionists were not working in a vacuum, but were in touch with artists on the Continent, including Marcel Duchamp, the Swiss abstractionist Max Bill, and the American abstract painter Charles Biederman. They avidly read Biederman’s 1948 treatise, Art as the Evolution of Visual Knowledge.
The Constructionists epitomised the search for a Modernism that would be viable within the complex aesthetics of post-war Britain. Although he had been making geometrically-based collages for some time, in 1952 Hill made his first abstract relief. By 1953, he had abandoned colour, and was making stark black and white paintings, in which geometry and free-form drawing were held in tension. A large painting (now lost) Catenary Rhythms was included in the exhibition Artist versus Machine held at the Building Centre, London, in 1954. That same year, along with Stephen Gilbert and others, Hill featured in Lawrence Alloway’s Nine Abstract Artists, a book which sought to distinguish between ‘genuine’ abstract art, and the more or less random styles adopted by those who had rejected figurative art, but who Alloway felt followed no coherent aesthetic. Alloway’s preference for ‘structural’ artists such as Hill, William Scott, Terry Frost and Kenneth and Mary Martin, was based on a conscious opposition to the expressive abstraction epitomised by Peter Lanyon and other St. Ives artists. The group showed at the Redfern Gallery in 1955, with a catalogue written by Hill and the following year were given prominence in the Whitechapel exhibition This is Tomorrow. Adrian Flowers was a steady presence at the centre of this ferment of creativity, photographing the artists in their studios as they prepared their work for exhibition.
After the Whitechapel exhibition, Hill gave up painting entirely, concentrating instead on three-dimensional work. In 1958 his reliefs were shown at the ICA, by which time he was incorporating sheet copper, brass, zinc and stainless steel in these wall-mounted works. The following year Hill and Gillian Wise, another graduate of the Central School of Art, became partners, and in 1962, Hill organised the exhibition Construction: England: 1950-60 at the Drian Gallery, a space founded by the Lithuanian Halima Nalecz, to represent artists excluded from West End Galleries. This was to be the last group exhibition of the Constructionists, and apart from the support of a small band of loyal curators and collectors, they faded from view. Hill and Wise went on to collaborate on works, including Metal Relief with Horizontal Elements (1962) now in the National Galleries of Scotland. In 1963 the couple showed in the exhibition Reliefs/Structures at the ICA.
Based on a high-minded aspiration towards an art that was self-referential and bore no relationship to the world of visible reality, Hill’s aesthetic was intellectual and personal. His often dogmatic assertion of the primacy of this approach led him to write theoretical essays, to explain his approach to making art. However, even within the rarefied world of mathematics, assertions of neutrality were not possible, and Hill’s art and writings can be read today as polemical, personal and even combative assertions regarding society, aesthetics, and the politics of his time. In 1968 Faber and Faber published Data: Directions in Art, Theory, and Aesthetics, a compilation of essays edited by Hill that consciously echoed the 1938 publication Circle, which had featured Naum Gabo, Ben Nicholson and others. Hill’s introductory essay, reflecting his own rigorous approach to making art, was entitled “Programme, Paradigm and Structure”. The following year, led by Jeffrey Steele, a number of UK artists working in this mode formed the “Systems Group”. Less committed to Marxist ideologies, Kenneth and Mary Martin, along with Hill, preferred not to become involved. However Wise, who had been researching Russian Constructivism in the Soviet Union, did join, and eventually this led to her breaking with Hill, who went on to pursue his own career. He subsequently married the Japanese ceramic artist Yuriko Kaetsu (1953-2013). In 1983 he had a retrospective exhibition at the Hayward Gallery and by the early 1970’s was making free-standing geometric constructions. In 1973-4 he adopted the name Achill Redo, under which moniker he exhibited at the Mayor Gallery and Angela Flowers Gallery, and wrote texts that pay homage to the Dadaists and Surrealists. In 1994 his Duchamp anthology Duchamp: Passim was published by Gordon and Breach. In 2012, he was included in the exhibition Concrete Parallels in Sao Paulo, Brazil. By this time, Hill was suffering from bouts of depression that sometimes made it impossible for him to welcome visitors to his studio, and was retreating into an intellectual and personal universe not unlike that of Humphrey Earwicker in James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake.
“I asked LSC for a kick-start idea for do it. He gave me his take, but insisted I don’t credit him or refer to him by name. But I have done it. Lafcadio Svensen Carner, he said the short auteur’s cut was not to do it, to do nothing, i.e., it is not a thing you can overtly do. (How do they do it, these megamind pscientists?) They will never finally, really succeed in doing it when it = the grand theory about every it/thing. Best to switch to art, especially abstract art or pure absolutart—that’s where to aim (or aim to miss, as several stratagists convey). Re: doing it right, LSC said, “I could only come up with, you can either do it right or wrong, there is no tertium whatshit. (i.e. excluturd middleterm), there is the theologic of it. That and O’Kamm’s shaver, to the restcu.” (Achill Redo 2012)
Although characterised as an artist who championed rational intellect over emotional feeling, and methodical planning over spontaneous expression, Anthony Hill’s work reveals not only a love of mathematics, but also an appreciation of the intuitive nature of art making. His work was informed by the development of computer language, with its emphasis on logic and patterns of connectivity, and he was equally immersed in the ebb and flow of 20th century art movements, such as De Stijl and the Russian Constructivists, but ultimately there is a personal introspective quality in his art that reveals the extent to which he was on an increasingly solitary quest, exploring philosophical questions on the nature of human consciousness and apprehension of the world.
Job No. 6482 28th November – 3rd December 1969 Beethoven
In late November 1969, at the request of the Observer magazine, Adrian Flowers travelled to Bonn, and then to Vienna, photographing places and artefacts associated with Ludwig van Beethoven, whose bi-centenary would fall the following year. In Bonn, Flowers went to the “Beethovens Gerburtshaus” at No. 20 Bonngasse, where on 16th December 1770 the composer was born. One of the few old buildings to survive in the city, this eighteenth-century Baroque house now houses a museum, the Beethoven-Haus. When Flowers visited, it was not only a photographer’s eye that drew him to some of the key exhibits, but also a sensitive response to the frustrations of Beethoven, who was forced to use ear trumpets, and to pound the piano keyboard, in an attempt to overcome his deafness. The photographs taken by him evoke in a powerful way what Beethoven must have suffered, as this condition made it almost impossible for the composer to hear his own playing of the piano or violin.
The grand piano at No. 20 Bonngasse is one of three—and the last—played by Beethoven. Made in Vienna by instrument maker Conrad Graf (1782-1851), it was loaned to the composer in 1826. Judging by the condition of the ivory keys today, it is tempting to envision Beethoven wearing them out with his heavy playing. The ivories have evidently been replaced on at least one occasion, then worn down again, like nails bitten to the quick—an image captured in one of Flowers’ most expressive photographs. With its label ‘L. van Beethofen”, the piano could be read as a testament to the frustrations experienced by the composer. However this is probably a romantic notion, as the composer died in 1827 and the Graf piano has been played many times since then, by other musicians. The ear trumpets and acoustic instruments, also photographed by Flowers, provide more telling evidence of the composer’s deafness. They were made for Beethoven by Johann Nepomunk Mälzel, a Czech inventor who also invented the metronome.
Flowers’ photographs of piano and artefacts appeared a year later, in an article written by Colin Cross and published in the Observer magazine on 29th November 1970. Other photographs by Flowers that accompanied the article include an interior view of the ornate concert hall of the Vienna Friends of Music, founded in 1814. The Friends were so mean-spirited in paying Beethoven that he nicknamed them the ‘Musikfiend’, or enemies of music. Nevertheless, they were friendly enough to allow Flowers to photograph their collection of historic violins. He also visited the Vienna Academy of Music, photographing seven year-old Ulrike Brodl practising the piano. Sadly, the hopes expressed by the Observer in 1969, that Brodl would become a prodigy, appear not to have been borne out. The article was illustrated also with a photograph by Flowers of the autograph score for Symphony No. 3, the “Eroica”. This had been dedicated in 1803 to the composer’s hero Napoleon, but when the latter crowned himself Emperor—a political act that infuriated Beethoven—the composer scratched out the dedication with the nib of his quill pen, lamenting “Is he then, too, nothing more an ordinary human being?” The repudiation seemed complete (and its mythologizing certainly was) until Napoleon’s brother Jerome, crowned king of Westphalia, asked Beethoven to become court composer, a move thwarted by patrons in Vienna, who paid him to remain in the Austrian capital.
Other photographs that are preserved in the AF Archive, but did not appear in the 1970 Observer article, include the exterior of No. 20 Bonngasse, the attic bedroom where Beethoven was born, autograph scores, a pencil sketch of the composer by August von Kloeber, a 1905 bronze bust by Russian-born sculptor Naoum Aronson, in the museum garden, and a detail of the bronze monument, sculpted by Caspar von Zumbusch in 1880, in Beethovenplatz in Vienna.
In another article in that same issue of the Observer magazine, Peter Heyworth wrote about Beethoven: “Like most men of his age (he was born the same year as Wordsworth), he was generally sympathetic to the ideals of 1789, liked to consider himself a democrat and cultivated a gruff egalitarian manner that shocked the courtier in Goethe, born a crucial 21 years earlier. . . Until disillusionment set in, he regarded Napoleon as the liberator of mankind, and if that sounds naïve, it pales before the eulogies heaped on Stalin’s head by British intellectuals in the days of the Popular Front.” In the British cultural world of the early 1970’s, Beethoven occupied an uneasy place, admired for his musical genius but suspect because of his pan-European credentials and Promethean undertones. In A Clockwork Orange (1971), a film based on Anthony Burgess’s novel, the protagonist Alex, subjected to aversion therapy, complains “I wake up. The pain and sickness all over me like an animal. Then I realised what it was. The music coming up from the floor was our old friend, Ludwig Van, and the dreaded Ninth Symphony”. In A Clockwork Orange, a direct link is drawn between Beethoven’s music and anarchic violence and terror. In 2019, for different, but perhaps related, reasons, a group of 29 British MEP’s turned their backs when his Ode to Joy, an extract from the Ninth Symphony and the anthem of the European Union, was played at the Parliament in Strasbourg. With the 250th anniversary of the composer’s birth now being celebrated, half a century after Flowers visited Bonn and Vienna, his photographs are as visually eloquent today, as they were then.
In 1955 Adrian Flowers photographed artists Mary and Kenneth Martin in their studio in London. At the time, Mary was working on her maquette for Environment, an installation she, in collaboration with architect John Weeks, created for the This is Tomorrow exhibition held at the Whitechapel Gallery the following year. As was usual at the time, Martin repaid Adrian for his work by gifting him Expanding Form, a three dimensional work made of Perspex, stainless steel and wood. Years later, in 1984, Adrian loaned this work to the retrospective exhibition of Mary Martin’s work, held at the Tate Gallery. One of his 1955 photographs was also used for the catalogue that accompanied this exhibition.
Born in Folkestone, Kent in 1907, Mary Martin (née Balmford) was one of the most influential abstract artists to work in Britain in the post war period. In the latter half of the 1920’s she studied at both Goldsmiths’ College and the Royal College of Art. In 1930 she married fellow student Kenneth Martin; they had two sons, John and Paul. Although Mary died prematurely, in 1969, she left behind a legacy of artworks that have continued to shape people’s view of what “Modern Art” meant to Britain in the post-war decades. Having raised, along with her husband Kenneth, a family during the 1940’s, Martin was in no position to become a full-time artist until 1950, by which time she was in her ‘forties. Her career spanned just two decades, but during that time she made a considerable impression, achieving recognition for an intellectually rigorous approach to the making of art. Her first abstract reliefs date from 1951. Commissioned to curate an exhibition of abstract art for the Festival of Britain in 1950, Kenneth was a catalyst in Martin’s decision to abandon figurative painting in favour of abstract art. Influences included the work of Piet Mondrian, J. W. Power’s The Elements of Pictorial Construction, and artist friends, notably Victor Pasmore and Adrian Heath. Whether constructed in two or three dimensions, Martin’s work was shaped by classical geometries and vectors, with echoes of the art of paper folding, or Origami. With its mathematical basis—not least an interest in Fibonacci sequence and the ‘Golden Section’—her work was also in many ways an artistic response to the technological developments then taking place in the world of logic and computing, reflecting the philosophies of both Plato and of George Boole. As with computer switching, many of her constructions contain elements that appear open or closed, black or white, positive or negative—operating visually in much the same way as hinged windows on the façade of a building. This architectural quality in her work is not accidental; in 1956 Martin collaborated with Kenneth Martin and the architect John Weeks, in building an installation in the influential Whitechapel Gallery exhibition This is Tomorrow, and not long afterwards designed a free-standing wall for Musgrave Park hospital Belfast. Her monumental frieze-like wall construction, made for the University of Stirling in 1969 and experienced by thousands of students, still serves as a powerful expression of how Modernism shaped British society and intellectual thought during these years. What was important to Martin was that her work could operate in a purely architectonic way. She was less interested in applying artworks as an afterthought to a building. She was an influential artist, not least because of her writings on art and architecture, many of which were published in the Dutch architectural magazine Structure.