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Robert Adams

Robert Adams in his studio 26.9.55. Photograph by Adrian Flowers

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Robert Adams, early 1962. Photograph by Adrian Flowers

Text: Peter Murray

Editor: Francesca Flowers

All images subject to copyright.

Adrian Flowers Archive ©

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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 ©

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Len Deighton – Action Man

DIVERS

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:

Image for ‘Horse Under Water’, photograph by Adrian Flowers

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.

Len Deighton looks on while divers help each other take off rubber wetsuits. Photograph: Adrian Flowers
Cover of Jonathan Cape 1963 hardback edition

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.

Len Deighton in front of the Heinkel III in 1969, photograph by Adrian Flowers

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.

Len Deighton in his London office in 1968. Photograph by Adrian Flowers

Text: Peter Murray

Editor: Francesca Flowers

All images subject to copyright.

Adrian Flowers Archive ©