Categories
Artists Portraits

Brian Wall sculptor

(b. 5th September 1931)

Brian Wall photographed by Adrian Flowers, on 6th February 1963

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.

Brian Wall with his “Construction” sculptures on St Ives Beach, 1956

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.

Contact sheet, Brian Wall photographed by Adrian Flowers, 6th February 1963

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.

Adrian Flowers photographing Brian Wall, February 1963

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.

Text: Peter Murray

Editor: Francesca Flowers

All images subject to copyright.

Adrian Flowers Archive ©

For further reading, refer to Brian Wall by Chris Stephens, Suzaan Boettger and Barry Munitz. Momentum publishing 2006.

Categories
Portraits

Roland & Mario

Mario Amaya and Roland Penrose photographed by Adrian Flowers,
13th June 1968

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.

Mario Amaya and Roland Penrose photographed by Adrian Flowers,
13th June 1968 JN 6014

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.

Sir Roland Penrose, photographed for the National Portrait Gallery in October 1970

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.

Mario Amaya and Roland Penrose photographed by Adrian Flowers,
13th June 1968

Text: Peter Murray

Editor: Francesca Flowers

All images subject to copyright.

Adrian Flowers Archive ©

Categories
Musicians Portraits

Kató Havas OBE

Kató Havas, photograph by Adrian Flowers, March 1961

(1920 – 2018)

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.

Kató Havas photographed by Adrian Flowers

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.”

Kató Havas. Photograph by Adrian Flowers

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.

Kató Havas photographed by Adrian Flowers March 1961

Text: Peter Murray

Editor: Francesca Flowers

All images subject to copyright.

Adrian Flowers Archive ©

Categories
Assistants in Adrian Flowers Studio Photographers

Portraits of Duffy

Brian Duffy, photographer
1933 – 2010

Duffy photographed by Adrian Flowers, January 1958

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.

Duffy photographed by Adrian Flowers, May 1960

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.

Terence Donovan, ?, Len Deighton, Adrian Flowers, Norman Brand, Duffy, and ?
photograph by Adrian Flowers at his studio in Tite Street, 1966

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.

Duffy and Donovan photographed by Adrian Flowers in 1966

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.

Duffy, Adrian Flowers and Terence Donovan.
Photograph by Adrian Flowers, 1966

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.

Chris Duffy with Duffy, August 1963

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.

Text: Peter Murray

Editor: Francesca Flowers

All images subject to copyright.

Adrian Flowers Archive ©

With thanks to www.duffyarchive.com


Categories
Artists Portraits

Joseph Beuys

12 May 1921 – 23 January 1986

Joseph Beuys at the Whitechapel in 1972, photograph by Adrian Flowers

In February 1972, Joseph Beuys, by then something of a star in the international art world, visited London to perform Information Action at the Tate and Whitechapel galleries. The work consisted of a lecture and discussion, with Beuys drawing diagrams and cryptic notes on a series of blackboards, a technique that had become his signature trademark. This was far from being his first visit to the UK; two years previously Beuys had collaborated with Richard de Marco on a series of projects in Scotland. He also worked extensively with writer and curator Caroline Tisdall. The three blackboards resulting from the 1972 London event remained for over a decade in the store of the Tate education department, until in 1983, along with a board from a parallel event at the Whitechapel Gallery, they were accessioned into the Tate collection as artworks in their own right. Although in some respects souvenirs, the boards with their chalked diagrams still convey the excitement of the lectures, which were animated by the charismatic personality of Beuys himself. 

A series of photographs, taken by Adrian Flowers at the Whitechapel Gallery in Feb 1972, show Beuys with his characteristic gaunt expression, wearing a grey felt hat with black hatband. His face is lopsided, perhaps as a consequence of injuries received when he served in the German military during WWII. With its armband and brass buttons with crosses, the artist’s coat is also provocative, the red gorget patches on the lapels reminiscent of a military officer. Underneath the coat is visible the fisherman’s vest Beuys invariably wore. Another photograph shows the artist standing on a small balcony, high above the gallery floor, in a pose that again has historical resonances. A third image shows Beuys sitting on the bar of a scaffolding tower. The available props in the Whitechapel gallery space, ladders, towers and steeply raked rooflights, were used effectively, with Beuys becoming an actor in an expressionist stage set.

Joseph Beuys at the Whitechapel in 1972, photograph by Adrian Flowers

At the time of the Tate/Whitechapel event Beuys was head of sculpture at the Dusseldorf Academy, but his unorthodox teaching methods were becoming increasingly controversial, and in October of that year, notwithstanding protests amongst artists and students, he was dismissed. If anything, this increased his fame and, through association with movements such as Fluxus, over the following decade he enjoyed a successful international career, culminating in a retrospective at the Guggenheim in 1979. Seven years later, shortly after winning the Wilhelm Lehmbruck Prize, Beuys died aged 64. Over the decades following, while much of the mystique that had propelled him to the forefront of the international art scene began to ebb, his life, legacy and philosophies continued to fascinate biographers and critics, often eager to tear aside the veil of veneration with which this charismatic artist was regarded by his followers. He certainly mythologised his own life, creating fictional biographical details—such as his having been a Luftwaffe pilot, shot down in the Crimea, and rescued by local nomadic Tartars, who wrapped him in felt and carried him on a sled to a place of safety. These life episodes, heavily embellished rather than invented, were used by Beuys to explain and underpin the meaning of his artworks, especially his sculptures which often incorporated sleds, fur, fat and felt. 

As a teenager, Beuys had been a member of the Hitler Youth, had participated in the 1933 Nuremburg Rally, and later served as a radio operator in the Luftwaffe. His plane was indeed shot down in the Crimea, but he was rescued by German troops and saw further military service before the end of the war. In the post-war years, his art was largely based on a simultaneous reverence and revulsion regarding these aspects of his life. Often, albeit without any trace of humour, he brings to mind the fictional character Schwejk, an anti-hero who forms relationships with animals, and finds himself in absurdist situations. In essence however, Beuys’ ideas were not so innovative or revolutionary, but were based on the writings of Nietzsche and Rudolf Steiner, and on the training he received in the late 1940’s under Ewald Mataré at the Dusseldorf Academy. 

Joseph Beuys at the Whitechapel in 1972, photograph by Adrian Flowers

Beuys was an idealist, arguing for a spiritual rebirth for mankind, based on qualities of essential humanity. Drawing on shamanistic traditions, he regarded art, or what he called ‘social sculpture’, as a liberating force that could enact social change. He was often deliberately controversial in his lectures and pronouncements, comparing the suppressing of creativity in people—a consequence of industrialisation—as akin to the extermination policies of the Nazis. An ardent admirer of James Joyce, in the late 1950’s Beuys began work on a series of drawings inspired by the novel Ulysses. At one point, encouraged by the art critic Dorothy Walker, he considered setting up a free university in the Wicklow mountains, near Dublin. His assemblage of works, A Secret Block for a Secret Person in Ireland, is in the Museum of Modern Art at Oxford. He was also a frequent visitor to Scotland, where he collaborated with Richard de Marco on projects relating to Celtic history and legend, that formed part of the Edinburgh Festival. Beuys’s work in the UK and Ireland has been documented by his friend Caroline Tisdall, later art critic for The Guardian, who has also organised exhibitions and published several books on the artist.

Text: Peter Murray

Editor: Francesca Flowers

All images subject to copyright

Adrian Flowers Archive ©

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Portraits

Shirley Williams MP

Baroness Williams of Crosby (1930 – 2021)

Shirley Williams MP in her office at the Houses of Parliament,
photographed by Adrian Flowers, for the Observer, 20th July 1973

On 20th July 1973, accompanied by his son Matthew (2nd assistant at that time, 1st assistant was Steve Garforth – see previous post from July 2020 ), Adrian Flowers brought his camera equipment to the Houses of Parliament at Westminster, to photograph Shirley Williams, for an article for the Observer. Williams at that time was poised to become the first woman prime minister, but in the event she stepped aside to allow James Callaghan to take up the leadership of the Labour Party. The photographs taken in 1973 provide a vivid record of a woman who was at the heart of British politics. Dressed in a white safari suit, her red leather handbag sitting on a desk strewn with papers and files, Williams was totally at ease with the camera. She had long been one of Flowers’ heroes, and her championing of progressive policies on education, race relations and society tied in closely with his own views. Just three weeks earlier, in Parliament, Williams had railed against the new Immigration Act, the wording of which was open to varying interpretations. She pointed out that people stopped for minor traffic offences were being taken to police stations and questioned about their status as immigrants: “There are particularly sensitive areas which the House must consider. One of these is the relations between the immigrants and the police. The relations between the police and in particular the Asian community have, by and large, been good. . . Civil liberties do not erode at the top: they erode at the bottom, among the most under-privileged, the most poor, the least popular. If the House cares—and I believe that it has always cared—about civil liberties, it must tonight take the not wholly popular but deeply important step of satisfying itself that the constitutional rights and civil rights of these people have been adequately protected by us.” [Hansard HC Deb 26 June 1973 vol 858 cc1405-70] But a few days later Williams, ever mindful of the well-being of all sectors of society, was seeking improved allowances for police officers based in London. As a member of Parliament, and then of the House of Lords, Williams devoted almost her entire life to politics and public service.
Born in 1930, Shirley Williams (née Brittain) was brought up in a resolutely left-wing household, albeit one in which social commitment was matched with a degree of prosperity. Her mother, Vera Brittain, originally from Staffordshire, was a prolific author and political activist: in 2014 Testament of Youth, an autobiographical memoir of her experiences as a nurse in the First World War, was made into a film by the BBC. Her daughter’s life was also shaped by war. Evacuated from Britain during WWII, Shirley Williams spent several years in St. Paul Minnesota, where she attended St. Paul’s school. Her father, George Catlin, while lecturing at Cornell University in the early 1940’s, was an advisor to American presidential candidates. Returning to Britain after the war, Williams attended St Paul’s School in London (where her father had also been educated) then studied at Oxford, before working as a journalist, and then entering politics. Much of her life was dedicated to breaking down those barriers of class and privilege that had paradoxically, during her formative years, given her access to inspirational figures including T. S. Eliot and Jawaharal Nehru. There were other paradoxes in her political life; motivated perhaps by her Catholic upbringing, during the 1960’s she opposed liberalising divorce and abortion, and was later opposed to gay marriage. As Minister for Education in James Callaghan’s Labour government in 1974, she championed comprehensive education but cut resources for teacher training.

Although she served in the Labour governments of both Wilson and Callaghan, she resigned from the Labour Party in 1981, to found, along with three other rebels, the Social Democratic party, which later merged with the Liberals to form the Liberal Democrats. Her first husband Bernard Williams, who she married in 1955, was an academic and later a philosophy don, while her second husband Richard Neustadt, like her father, was an academic who served also as advisor to American presidents including J F Kennedy and Bill Clinton. He and Williams met during her time as lecturer at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. After a distinguished parliamentary career, in 1993 Williams was appointed a member of the House of Lords, a post from which she resigned in 2016. Her own autobiography Climbing the Bookshelves was published in 2009. She died on April 12th 2021.

Text: Peter Murray

All images subject to copyright

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Artists

Nina Hamnett

1890 – 1956

Nina Hamnett photographed by Adrian Flowers, July 1955

On 7th July 1955, Adrian and Angela Flowers visited the artist Nina Hamnett in her London flat. The photographs Adrian took that evening are among the last visual records of this legendary ‘Queen of Bohemia’. Seated on her bed, Hamnett held forth for her visitors, recounting tales of her life as an artist in Edwardian London and Paris. Cheerful, ravaged, her face like that of an weather-beaten mariner, Hamnett sat, her crutches on the bed beside her. Also on the bed sat a man wearing a vest and smoking a cigarette, his expression thoughtful and pensive. Angela remembers him as a merchant seaman, a friend of Nina’s. There was also a young woman, a journalist. The photographs capture details of Hamnett’s home life, and her love of books and art; above the fireplace were stacked shelves of books, with paintings propped against the wall. A framed drawing of a classical head may have been the same student work for which Hamnett had been awarded a prize, half a century before, at the Portsmouth School of Art. A single candle, on a small footstool beside the fireplace, was likely the only source of illumination when the electricity meter ran out.

Nina Hamnett with journalist, July 1955.
Photograph by Adrian Flowers

In 1955, Hamnett’s second book of memoirs, Is She a Lady?, had just been published, and she was enjoying her time in the limelight. Other photographs taken by Flowers, either on that day or close to it, show her sitting at a bar, with Angela, and also talking to others around her. However, Hamnett’s recollections of her own life were often embellished for literary effect. She told different versions of the same story, and invented episodes, to increase the dramatic effect. She was clearly delighted with the photography session, and dressed up for the occasion.

Nina Hamnett and Angela Flowers, July 1955, at the Bridge House.
Photograph by Adrian Flowers

Angela recalls the visit to the bar as having taken place at Little Venice, just north of Paddington Station. The bar was probably in the Bridge House, at Delamere Terrace, close to the Regent’s Canal bridge, an ironwork structure that appears in a 1947 watercolour by Hamnett. In 2019, Kate Thorogood curated an exhibition of Nina Hamnet’s work at the Fitzrovia Chapel, in the course of which she debunked some mythologies, principally the story that Hamnett died in a fall from her flat in Fitzrovia. In fact, Hamnett appears to have moved to Paddington some years earlier: “It is understood that in 1947, there was a fire in her block of flats from which a girl tried to escape by leaping out of the window, only to be impaled on the railings below. Later, Nina would hear this story being told as if she were the one who tragically died. Having been made homeless by the fire and by all accounts refused a place in Marylebone Workhouse, Nina was rehoused in Paddington, not Fitzrovia. It was here she died, also from a fall out of a window. There are many versions of the story of her death, including some in which she dies impaled on the railings. Some claim there was a drunken stumble; others a suicide attempt.” At the time of the Flowers’ visit, Hamnett was just sixty-five, but she was destined to live for just one more year. In 1956, several days after the fall—which was probably accidental—she died in hospital.

Nina Hamnett and friend July 1955. Photograph by Adrian Flowers

Although her death took place in tragic circumstances, Hamnett remains alive in the minds and memories of many, both as a cultural inspiration and a cautionary tale. The story of her life has a stellar quality, but a desire to be the centre of attention led her to forego her own talents as an artist, and to instead become model, dancer, companion, and lover and muse to others, while neglecting her own creative work. Born in 1890, a rackety childhood in Tenby with a grandmother, a couple of years in Ireland with an improvident military father, and teenage forays into London’s bohemia had ill-prepared Hamnett for the conventional career expected of her, of completing a secretarial course, becoming a typist, and settling into suburban life. Having studied at the Metropolitan School in Dublin, then Portsmouth, then the London School of Art, she far preferred the company of sculptors, painters and writers, and, with her hair cut page-boy style and wearing brightly-patterned clothes, enjoyed being stared at by passers-by on the Tottenham Court Road.

Nina Hamnett in July 1955. Photograph by Adrian Flowers

In 1914, at the outset of the First World War, Hamnett was in Paris, hard up, but contriving to remain at the heart of the artistic world that revolved around Montparnasse and La Rotonde. She drank with Zadkine and modelled for Modigliani, in much the same way as, while in London, she had modelled for Roger Fry, Walter Sickert and Henri Gaudier-Brzeska. In Paris, she took off her clothes at parties and, in the manner of Isadora Duncan, danced with a veil, applauded as much by the older women present as by the young avant-garde artists who delighted in this expression of artistic freedom. Although she had male lovers, Hamnett’s friendships with women were often more important to her. She married the Norwegian artist Edgar de Bergen (Roald Kristian) in 1914, but having brought him to England found he was a bore, and was not overly dismayed when he failed to register and was deported back to the Continent as an ‘undesirable alien’. Hamnett then threw herself into the artistic life of London with gusto, dining with Augustus John at the Tour Eiffel restaurant, sketching George Moore and Lord Alfred Douglas at the Café Royal, and working with Roger Fry at the Omega Workshops. In 1917-18 she taught at the Westminster School of Art, and her portraits from these years are among her best. In the 1920’s she moved back to Paris and re-joined the avant-garde, counting Cocteau, Stravinsky and Eric Satie among her friends. These were Hamnett’s most productive years, and she travelled back to London several times to attend openings of exhibitions of her paintings. Two volumes of autobiography preserve the outline, if not the emotional form, of these intense years; published in 1932, Laughing Torso is a window into the avant-garde art worlds of Paris and London, while twenty-three years later, Is She a Lady? brought readers up to date on her spiced-up adventures. Like many of her generation, the First World War had cast a long shadow over Hamnett’s life, and the onset of a second war in 1939 meant that again she could not travel to Paris, and so, over the following two decades, she continued with her bohemian life, holding court at the Fitzroy Tavern in Soho. With alcohol gradually replacing painting, she acquired notoriety, while her friends, in time, disappeared, to be replaced by drinking companions, who to a greater or lesser degree abetted her in this fall from grace. In her formative years, Hamnett’s father, an army officer, had been an overbearing and negative influence, fully expecting his daughter to fail in her determination to live an artistic life. After his death, she went some way towards making up for that disappointment, but remains nonetheless a compelling figure in the world of British avant-garde art.

Text: Peter Murray

Editor: Francesca Flowers

All images subject to copyright.

Adrian Flowers Archive ©

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Artists in St Ives

Wilhelmina Barns-Graham

1912 – 2004

Wilhelmina Barns-Graham in December 1954, photographed by Adrian Flowers

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.

Wilhelmina Barns-Graham in 1954, photographed by Adrian Flowers

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.

Wilhelmina Barns-Graham and David Lewis in 1954.
Photograph by Adrian Flowers

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)]

Text: Peter Murray

Editor: Francesca Flowers

All images subject to copyright.

Adrian Flowers Archive ©

Categories
Artists in St Ives Portraits

Michael Snow

1930 – 2012

Michael Seward Snow in December 1963,
photographed by Adrian Flowers

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.

Michael Snow. Photograph by Adrian Flowers

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.

Michael Seward Snow and Margaret Lambert on Porthmeor Beach, St Ives 1963
Photograph by Adrian Flowers

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.

Mike and Margaret (and Sarah, Adrian’s dog), on the rocks of West Penwith. Photograph by Adrian Flowers

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.

Michael Snow in his studio. Photograph by Adrian Flowers

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]

Text: Peter Murray

Editor: Francesca Flowers

All images subject to copyright

Adrian Flowers Archive ©

Categories
Artists in St Ives Portraits

Victor Pasmore

1908 – 1998

Victor Pasmore photographed by Adrian Flowers, April 1955

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.

Victor Pasmore work including Abstract in White, Black, Indian and Lilac 1956.
Photograph by Adrian Flowers

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.

Victore Pasmore’s studio. Photograph by Adrian Flowers

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.

Victor Pasmore in January 1956.
Photograph by Adrian Flowers

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’.

Victor Pasmore working on his installation for This is Tomorrow exhibition at the Whitechapel Art Gallery in August 1956. Pasmore was in Group Seven, with Ernö Goldfinger and Helen Phillips.
The foreground of this photograph features a section of the ‘bubble sculpture’ by
Group Eight: James Stirling, Michael Pine, Richard Matthews.
Adrian Heath on the left and Ernö Goldfinger on the right.
Photograph by Adrian Flowers

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.

Victor Pasmore in April 1965, photograph by Adrian Flowers

Text: Peter Murray

Editor: Francesca Flowers

All images subject to copyright

Adrian Flowers Archive ©