Richard Warren

20thc British art and poetry (mainly), plus bits of my own – "Clearly I tap to you clearly along the plumbing of the world" (W S Graham)

Tag Archives: surrealism

A tale of two Stanleys: Stanley Jackson and Stanley Jackson

I’m long overdue settling my confused account of the oddly varied work of painter and illustrator Stanley Jackson, as promised back here. Apologies to all involved. For previous episodes, see here and here, but rather than add bibs and bobs at this point, it seems better to lay out the whole thing afresh and refer back sparingly. Mainly because, as previously noted in passing, it turns out that there were two Stanley Jacksons, whose stories show some striking coincidences. To the extent, in fact, that at one stage in our investigations the descendants of one Stanley were pretty much convinced that both might have been the same person. But it wasn’t so … Let’s call them Stanley One and Stanley Two. As we retrace their lives, in many ways quite different, some strange points of convergence may emerge.

Stanley One

Self portrait [Courtesy Jackie & Eloise Hendrick]

Stanley Arthur Jackson, painter, commercial artist, newspaperman and advertiser, was born in 1910, though he was later to claim that his birth year was 1917. Vanity? Perhaps. An undated self portrait, apparently done in the ‘thirties, shows a confident, almost raffish, young man in a dark overcoat and white polo neck, gazing out steadily at the viewer. [Click all images to enlarge.]

We tend to assume that, war service excepted, the lives of our twentieth century forebears were pretty static, but in fact, for those with the need or the inclination to wander, the British Empire provided an early form of globalisation, with ready opportunities to uproot and begin again. And Stanley Jackson, a man clearly with both drive and charm, was never one who was afraid to begin again.


In the ‘thirties he worked in India, and from 1937 was General Manager of the Madras Mail, overhauling and expanding its advertising. In 1942 he was appointed Director of Public Relations to the Joint War Organisation in India, creating publicity campaigns employing press, radio and film. His surviving paintings of Indian subjects were done during this time: the National Army Museum has a cheerful 1943 painting of a Madras infantryman, while Nuneaton Museum & Art Gallery has an undated oil of Madras boat builders, attributed to an E Jackson, but in my humble opinion by our man. (The identity of this painting has been the subject of an extremely protracted discussion on the Art Detective site, here.) These works are highly competent, the style chunky, with a warm, almost romantic feel.


At the close of the war in 1945 Jackson moved to London, working at Lintas advertising agency creating campaigns for soap brands, but two years later moved to South Africa and with his first wife set up his own business, the S & J Jackson advertising agency, Johannesburg. His commercial art of the period is fluent, highly styled, very much of its time. (Celrose, a Durban clothing manufacturer, is still in business today, incidentally.) Following his wife’s unexpected death Stanley Jackson remarried in 1950, sold up and returned to the UK, but before long was separated and on the move again, this time to Hong Kong.

 

From here the trail gets more than a bit hazy, but there are glimpses, albeit in different continents: we know that Jackson created murals at the Hong Kong Club and at some point was commissioned to paint a portrait of Chiang Kai Shek. Later in the ‘fifties he was in Kenya, and later still in Bangkok, where he married for a third time and raised a new family. In the ‘seventies he worked for a newspaper in Canberra, Australia.  He died at some point in the ‘eighties. An attractive painting from the Bangkok period, a lively, golden Thai dancer, turned up for sale recently in New Zealand. It has a touch of the psychedelic.

[Courtesy Jim Rowe]


There’s certainly a great deal more that we don’t know about Stanley One, a man of the world whose restless self-reinventions would make, as his granddaughter Eloise says, a great movie. I’m most grateful to her and to Stanley’s daughter Jackie for their help in pinning him down at least a little.

Stanley Two

Stanley Jackson, painter, commercial artist and writer, was born in 1917. (My thanks to Oliver Perry for unearthing a brief Who’s Who in Art entry for him.) He was schooled in Ongar and studied art at St Martin’s. His paintings – many apparently landscapes and townscapes – were exhibited quite widely in the late ‘thirties and early ‘forties, including at the RA.


Two watercolours with gouache, views of Edinburgh and Canterbury, sold at Toovey’s, the Sussex auction house, a few years back, fetching just £20 the pair. Jackson’s style is analytical but crisply confident; despite the mundanely picturesque subjects, the strong tonal planes owe much to post-cubism – there is a modernist lurking in here. On a rather different note, but recognisably by the same hand, is a painting of wartime refugees, the single Jackson item to show up on auction value sites.

Jackson also had an income as a commercial illustrator, including for children’s books; his cover for May Wynne’s Little Brown Tala Stories suggests a strong yearning for imaginary worlds. From 1944 this found a sudden and startling flowering in his covers for jazz publications written or edited by Albert (AJ) McCarthy of the “Jazz Sociological Society” – Jazz Forum, Jazz Review, Piano Jazz and publications by Jazz Music Books. The ambience of McCarthy’s jazz coterie was strongly literary and experimental, and in these images Jackson lurches abruptly into surrealist semi-abstractions, which found their ultimate bongoid flowering in his “Pattern of Frustration” series reproduced in black and white in George Woodcock’s anarchist literary review Now in 1944.


McCarthy’s write-up for “Pattern of Frustration” announced Jackson’s “withdrawal from the academic field towards a personal maturity which can only be expressed in less rigid forms.” That puts it mildly. I’ve re-gathered the images here, but McCarthy’s full text can be read in my first Stanley post, while Jackson’s own feverish artistic credo – “Everlasting layers of ideas, feelings, images, images which madden, which terrify, which intoxicate, images which sob” – can be read in full here, in my follow-up post.


Clearly, Jackson had toppled headlong into Bohemia and avant-gardism. However, at this point the bonkers abstractions suddenly disappear as his career veers off at right angles. In 1946 he married Ruth Pearl, a professional musician of real standing, the first woman to be a concertmaster of a professional orchestra in Britain and, until 1949, the leader of her own English String Quartet, a favourite of Vaughan Williams. That year she and Stanley moved to New Zealand where their son was born and where she thrived as a concert soloist, while Stanley did – what?

One of Ruth’s obituaries describes him as “a musician and artist who made a living as a commercial artist and music teacher”. Despite his jazz connections, I’m unsure about the music bit, as a quite different Stanley Jackson, organist and music teacher, was active in New Zealand then and beyond our Stanley’s death, which suggests a possible confusion. Three landscapes by Stanley Two are noted on Australian auction record sites, where he is down as “working 1950s” but unlisted in the standard sources; beyond that, I’ve found nothing. Stanley Jackson died in 1961 in New Zealand. His wife Ruth remarried, continued her career and died in 2008; her obituaries can be found here and here.

The Stanley convergences

At one point in this enquiry, I suspected that the apparent level of coincidence between the Stanley stories might be no more than my way of lending dignity to my own confusion, but then again …

To summarise: both Stanley Jacksons were born, or claimed to have been born, in 1917. Both were fine artists, commercial artists and writers. Both were in or around London during 1945 to 1947, and for all I know might have brushed shoulders on the Tube. Both then left the UK for new lives and new families in distant parts. Postwar, both lived and painted in the Antipodes. (The late emergence of a painting by Stanley One in New Zealand, where Stanley Two relocated, flung a particular spanner in the works!)


Observant readers will have spotted that the chunky lettering of Stanley One’s signature is quite different to the usual sharp italics of Stanley Two’s. However, they may also have noticed that it’s not totally incompatible with the “Jackson”, “Jaxon” or “Jxn” signatures of Stanley Two’s loopy period, a  resemblance that threw me for a bit. (One distinguishing oddity is that Stanley Two seems to have signed his full name, at least on occasions, minus the “e” in “Stanley”, though in print he is always referred to as “Stanley”.)

Common to both their stories is the theme of repeated renewal, removal and reappearance, the reinvention of self. What creatively extraordinary lives some people have lived!


Finally, I’m still uncertain as to which of our two Stanleys may have been the author of An Indiscreet Guide to Soho, an obscure but racy little volume of 1946 that today is a bit of a cult buy. The blurb describes the author as “a master of the art of reportage” who “knows his Soho intimately and has lived in this colourful area”. Stanley One, newspaperman and advertising copywriter, seems at first glance the likely candidate, but then again Stanley Two’s Bohemian-jazz connections might suggest a deeper acquaintance with the pulsing wartime nightlife of the quarter, and he certainly could write. Both were in the right area at the right time, so it must have been one of them, surely?

Unless, of course, there was a third Stanley Jackson prowling the alleyways of Soho, perhaps alternating his masterful reportage with the occasional painting or illustration … If there was, please let me know!

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‘A day is two halves’: Thomas Good’s ‘Carrion’

Thomas Good by Matthew Smith (detail)My recently posted profile of the sadly neglected but gratifyingly jagged poet Thomas Good (intro post here, also) mentions his contribution in the ‘thirties to that mammoth intercontinental compendium of the surreal and the Joycean, Eugene Jolas’s transition magazine. This turns out to be a short prose piece, published in the final issue, number 27 of 1938, among an assortment of texts grouped as “Hypnologues and Paramyths.” A note states that Good sent this from London, so it must have been written very shortly before his move to France after his breakdown in 1937. Curiously, this is the same issue of transition to which Terence White (aka Terence White Gervais) contributed. I should have tracked this down before, but here it is anyway and in due course I’ll add it to the Thomas Good pages above. It’s the earliest piece of his writing that I’ve yet found, by several years.

transitionFor me this chopped and feverish piece of automatism sits among the “hypnologues”. It’s striking that the earlier part echoes Good’s personal anxieties at the time, with its mentions of firm loins, a priest withholding absolution, Lazarus, an anchorite and so on. Yet the last two paragraphs contain a number of proper names (Mackenzie, Whipsnade, The Waste Land !!) that suggest some cut-up method using magazines or newspapers. However it was made, it certainly stretches the notion of narrative to screaming point, though it’s odd how quotable it is in places: “Each leg is severed for patent privacy …” Even aphoristic: “Benevolence is only one ounce in the kingdom of truth.”

Two possible typo’s: “cenotaur” in the middle of the first paragraph must surely be for “centaur,” and I have no idea what a “speehoo” might be in the final section, though a “speeho” is apparently an uproar in Scots.

When I first read this, I found myself feeling sorry for the baby ant which is castrated …

 

THOMAS GOOD

Carrion

Dry lanes he came through without sugar in stomach and temptation in coldness. He looked and called and no answer. He spoke and said: “You yellow cuckoo, only touch my bellysprings and you’ll find I’m randy enough. I’ll pink straight if they don’t leave me now, or when they hear my body crackle.” Not to speak of the apple-orchard and blossom to cover her. Firm loins broke his goose-step, and there were crazy children singing into his ears, asking him to murder them, because the priest withheld absolution. O, never will he stink yet until Easter, with seven lines crossing his brow, and if the five angels who sleep by Lazarus’s tomb have not kept quiet how much ranking will be in the bye-pass of Heaven. Now the twin-monster is harnessed to a star, and the bite of a tooth in her left breast. She saw the seven storms and breathed out gold-dust to the cenotaur. There was a crack in the eyeball and white men strangling a negro baby near the furnace. So I said: “Never answer while these bloodlips rouse stealth in the keeping of pig-sties. For benevolence is only one ounce in the kingdom of truth.” There were five pears adjacent to the snowdrop, and where the crane draws wheels, Satan made his meal of abdomens. Only the anchorite had any salt to his pie and left no sting in the serpent’s mouth. The acrostic was numerical and eleven bases of brimstone led to the gossamer pavement. Travelling by his side I heard the snapping of ribs, and demented stallions were exercising magnetism in shovelfuls by any road curious eaters may have taken. A day is two halves and few women have goat’s milk, but when two angry girls stripped the priest, he shaved his bones to sawdust. He said: “I’m in Chancery now and doubletwisted if Abel gives no quarter.” Now the discourse was ready to be given:

“O, lapwing in heaven of time carry a countenance of grim odour through the bays. Alias Mackenzie is a softer reef than a pinnacle and swallowed mud is no tether to a liaison. Fume in equal paces, left, left, right and left again, and tell no dead games in season by choking berries in Whipsnade. In streams of gloom two straps had soaked in steam. Dromedary counts steps to Druid arches and Clovis holds no distaff.”

Now I stand where no echo manipulates water, or trifle soothes brain-fag. I have asked in three-four time if Bartimaeus singed his tail in the waters of Eden, and if several apricots sit swaying in Gotha. Each leg is severed for patent privacy and eleven bends of the head strike the end of a season of chamber madness. In the court of the triremes Abjacus castrated his baby ant and an uncouth bandy-legged giant manoeuvres by firelight. We kept swaying through bedrock till the sweep of dunes left a billycock hat to signal where the tide had reached. Twenty fathoms below Ann’s curse, foul stench set jaws in motion, and, cleaning the stirrups, we plunged into the spume again. And so on. Until they sailed into the archer’s last ride and knocked twice into farthing spoons, all frosty in the daydream. This is the speehoo on hot drops when no cream spins round the hoop. Have you to beg on carrot roads or sweep stale ditches? Give five hoots by the pear-tin and send the scarab flying to the hatchway. Care for the two bitches lifting the curls from the rancid butter and no ginger will stand baking. For crying Smith will not bill The Waste Land and Joseph is stripping the muddle by the oak beams and clover.

Leslie Hurry’s palace of wisdom

In 2011 I posted here on a first, rather breathless, encounter with the ‘forties paintings of Leslie Hurry. He was clearly still working well into the 1970’s (he died in 1978); I may be missing something, but I still can’t see any recent monograph – is there really no big, glossy volume on this extraordinary artist?

coverThis lack makes Paintings and Drawings by Leslie Hurry (Grey Walls Press, 1950) still a useful source, at least, up to that point. The book’s intro is by the “prolific and proletarian” Jack Lindsay; this is sympathetic but none too informative. Lindsay wastes several pages trying to set Hurry into some sort of mega history-of-art context, but then fails to locate him as a painter within the movements and networks of his own times, as if his development were some purely personal, hermetic affair. But the book does have 38 plates, though only two are in colour; despite the black and white, it seems worthwhile to scan a few here below. (Click to enlarge.)

Sketch for Self-portrait, drawing, 1945

Sketch for Self-portrait, drawing, 1945

The paintings give out all sorts of echoes. Hurry may have opted to work in detachment from organised surrealism, but his relations in that respect are obvious. Absent from much of the imagery is the standard post-cubist scaffolding, so that his figures often have a ghostly flaccidity, as if their bones had been carefully extracted. They swell, contract and flop like jellyfish. This watery, or airy, looseness is reminiscent of David Jones, and the earliest image in the book, a watercolour of a Breton mass from 1939, is strongly Jones-like, both in style and content. While some later figures show rather more structure, a constant Picasso borrowing throughout is the familiar multi-angled face, though in Hurry’s hands this becomes more an image of simultaneous ambivalence than a trick of animation across adjacent moments.

To my mind, his allegorical images of famine and so forth are the least successful. When Hurry does Agony it veers into cartoony; a 1945 watercolour titled Atom Bomb is awkwardly sub-Guernica. To compensate, the scenery designs are a pleasure; they are richly fantastic, and relate closely to the baroque obsessiveness of Robin Ironside.

Jack Lindsay’s introduction to the book rounds off with his own poem, “The Bough of Sweetness,” dedicated to Hurry:

O difficult regeneration of suffering men
on the star-anvils in Stepney and Glasgow clanging
Mass meeting Strike Prague Five-Years-Plan Shanghai
also the slight chime of a flower perfected
and the livid eyes of fear caught in a word
Steadily the hills close round
with the doves of dawn and the nearing annunciation …

Personally, I find Lindsay’s poetry more interestingly symptomatic than successful, though this does at least represent a clumsy attempt at a verbal equivalent of Hurry’s violent conjunction of the visionary and the political – all very ‘forties, very apocalypse.


In his introduction to the book, Lindsay gives us little by way of Hurry’s biography. Born in 1909, trained at St John’s Wood and the RA School of Painting, emerging in 1931, murals, landscapes, a loss of purpose followed by a “desperate retreat into his lonely self” at a cottage in Thaxted, a spell in Brittany and Montmartre in 1938, from these periods of crisis a move into his mature work, beginning with more geometric configurations but soon evolving into more organic forms, theatre work starting with Hamlet at Sadlers Wells in 1941 – and that’s about as factual as it gets. His Wikipedia page adds not a lot more beyond the interesting detail that his father had been a funeral director, a career path the son rejected.

At the time of my previous post there didn’t seem to be much of Hurry online, but matters have since improved. Copyright restrictions at the Tate site have been lifted, so his artist page there now shows six works, including  This Extraordinary Year, 1945, which called to me when it was on the wall at Tate Britain. Much of Hurry’s work was watercolours; these don’t qualify for the Art UK site, which now offers six paintings, of which four are portraits including two variants of himself, though not the self-portrait shown in this post. Beyond these sources, a Google image search will throw up a couple of dozen additional items from galleries and so on, not counting costume or set designs. Enough to go at.

I find it hard to account for the relatively low profile of such a remarkable British painter, particularly given recent stirrings of interest in the neo-romantic phase. Hurry’s tense, highly strung images layer up beyond exhaustion those twitchy, compulsive marks and fragments until they hiss and sing in a sort of maximalist coherence, hard won against the odds by forcing overwroughtness through to a point of virtue. For once here, the road of excess does lead to the palace of wisdom.

Jazz and the undulating see-fields of Stanley Jackson

After five years’ blogging, you’d think I’d have learned to exhaust leads before rushing to post, but I haven’t, so here’s a second instalment on the marvellous but mysterious Stanley Jackson (see previous post).

The A J McCarthy who penned the text to Jackson’s images in George Woodcock’s Now 4 was indeed jazz writer Albert McCarthy, and the next issue of Now ran an advert for a new review, Jazz Forum, edited by McCarthy and due out in September 1945. In the event, with rather modified contents, it appeared in June 1946 and lasted for just five issues, spanning a little over a year. Interestingly, McCarthy’s policy was to blend jazz content with a wider literary flavour, taking jazz out of the specialist box and making it an element in a broader modern movement. Accordingly, contributors were pulled from the philosophical anarchists and neo-romantic poets networked around Now, plus pukka British surrealists such as Ithell Colquhoun and Toni del Renzio, with some transatlantic contributions.


From issue three the weight shifted, purer jazz writing dominating, but all five issues sported a front cover by Stanley Jackson. Fortunately, every issue is digitised here on the National Jazz Archive site, from where I’ve borrowed images (discreetly “watermarked”) of the covers. I find his designs remarkable. Not only have they an assured virtuosity, but they are bang on the cusp of the cultural moment, or a lurch beyond it; it’s hard to believe, for instance, that the fifth cover was done in 1947, so perfectly does it gel with 21st century cartoonoid mini-character design. The carved characters there and in number 3 (the oddest of the bunch) are maybe chosen for their supposed African qualities; otherwise, the covers keep to morphing, musical abstractions. They are signed “jaxon”, “jxn” or “stanly[sic] jackson”; apart from the reduced spelling, the latter is perfectly compatible with the signature on the National Army Museum painting mentioned last time, proving that both are indeed by the same hand.


The ad for issue 1 of Jazz Forum indicates that it incorporated Conception, previously advertised as the “experimental jazz literary review” of McCarthy’s “Jazz Sociological Society”. It’s unlikely that issue 1 of this ever made it into print; if it had, it would have included more “reproductions” of Jackson’s work, but I can’t find any trace of it. A couple of other covers for Jazz Sociological Society publications are clearly by Jackson, but are considerably less edgy in style.

However, Jazz Forum 1 does contain a book review by Jackson, which seems to have been created by tacking some very brief afterthoughts onto an existing personal credo. (The “review” is of number 5 of George Leite’s US literary review, Circle, to which McCarthy was a contributor, available from Jazz Forum.) This feverish piece of writing reveals a descent into oneiric worlds that might even hint at some hallucinogenic input, as well as a fondness for italics and for neo-Joycean hyphenated compounds such as “tumult-foam” or “pure-truth”. It may not be the most cogent artistic manifesto ever but it’s well worth a read, so here it is. (Jazz Forum has its share of typo’s; the three bracketed corrections are mine.)

CIRCLE 5.

The object in writing, painting, music, is to reveal something of the grandeur which belongs [brings ?] potential to man.

*           *           *

The music of the laughter of sound as thrown off from undulating see-fields, the multitudinous laughter of the ocean billows-love addressing the ear and the eye-mustering tumult-foam weaving garlands of translucent radiance for one poised moment in the eddies of gleaming abysses, sea-cradel’d[sic] flowers to the eye raise phantoms of gaiety rising as far as the eye can reach ….

*           *           *

Painting … sinking into night depths, blazing into day-heights, now skimming the shimmering surface, now sinking heavily into darkness, rising buoyantly into light. The layer upon layer of pigment extorting the torments; winging the dream-imagery to lofty brilliance – this tumult of images! Everlasting layers of ideas, feelings, images, images which madden, which terrify, which intoxicate, images which sob, have fallen – softly as light, as light upon light, upon the artist’s perception, conception.

Each successive image has seemed to bury all that had ever happened before, and yet, in its sur-reality, not one has been extinguished, They are all predetermined, gathered, waiting … ignoring whatever heterogeneous elements life may have accumulated from without. The pall of present, the pall of future, deep as oblivion, has been thrown over every trace of these vrai-experiences, they, so long, have slept in the dust of memory-past, there waiting for the bright steel tube of memory-future to probe and shatter them into a thousand multi-coloured fragments of human grandeur …

Suddenly a signal, a word, a note, a colour from the artist who can dream splendidly, the pall lifts, the fantastic, incredible, yet pure-truth theatre is revealed.

*           *           *

Whatever may be the number of those in whom this faculty of dreaming splendidly-sleeps, there are not many in whom it is developed – and far more rare is it for a man, who possesses this ability, to awaken the sleep – and to capture the instant. For unfortunately, the condition of living which burdens the vast majority to a daily existence incompatible with much elevated dream-thinking, undoubtedly sullies the colour of grandeur in the capturing-faculty of phantasy, even for those whose minds are filled with imagery. To dream splendidly, a man must have an incredible determination for imagery, and a continual obsession to awaken his sleeping dream-phantasy.

“Circle” have published two such men in their issue number five.

Frederick [Frederic] Ramsey Jr., his story of Vanicilio Meban, and Dane Ruhdyar, his Neptune, evocator extraordinary. It is also very pleasant to see Klee’s provocative thought-sketches again.

STANLEY JACKSON.

After 1947, the Jackson trail goes cold for me. What happened to him? Do his illustrations crop up elsewhere? Where is all the rest of his artwork? If anyone reading this has access to Buckman’s Artists in Britain since 1945 (sadly no longer online at issuu.com) or any similar directory, could you scan me Jackson’s entry, if he has one? I’d be very grateful. Otherwise, the hunt for more of Stanley Jackson is most well and truly on, over the undulating see-fields of billows-love to the bright steel tube of memory-future …

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Still more lost British surrealists

A final dozen “lost” British surrealists, or quasi-surrealists, picked from an extended plod through the latter part of the alphabet on the BBC’s Your Paintings site. (Click for enlargements / slideshow. For the previous batches use the “surrealism” tab or go here and here.) Again, the qualifying period is the ‘thirties to ‘sixties, so none of that knowing ‘eighties pseudo-surrealism, which was essentially a post-modernist look promoted in art schools.


Edith Rimmington
has only one painting in public ownership, judging by the BBC site, and this is it. And barely half a dozen visible online, it seems. A great pity, given her considerable ability and her important role in the British surrealist movement. This one is not entirely typical, but it does exemplify the interestingly violent physicality of her images. Next, lest we forget, a nice item by Grace Pailthorpe, the other half of Reuben Mednikoff; I’ve featured Pailthorpe and Mednikoff in a previous post. And then an early piece by the always interesting Julian Trevelyan. Or interesting until the later years, perhaps; at this point Trevelyan was well in the surrealist mainstream, and very much into myth, mescaline and Mass Observation.


Next, some extended perspectives, with and without extended shadows. Who was John Pemberton? Scottish, apparently, born 1908, died 1960. More I can’t say at the moment. But Since the Bombardment is a cracker. Josefina de Vasconcellos was best known as a Cumbrian sculptor, but here, interestingly, stock surrealist elements are employed to carry Christian content. But why not? No date given, though the mushroom cloud on the horizon suggests the immediate post-war period. Last in this trio is a typical trompe l’oeil piece by Oscar Mellor, a stalwart of the Birmingham surrealist group, and often remembered as a publisher of poetry, though his painting career was long and productive. Curvy chicks with their vests off feature largely in his paintings, as Google Images will quickly reveal, but his pics are always something more than banal surrealist porn. Well, almost always.


More wartime angst from Fitzrovian painter and photographer Peter Rose Pulham, represented by this single image on the BBC site. The animal skull is a recurring motif in British neo-romanticism, and this is a powerful version, with an appropriately photographic quality. Pulham knew the Paris surrealist scene, but seems to have been a more marginal figure in the British context. Angst of a post-war nuclear variety from William McCance, here working in a surrealist vein, though better known for his paintings of the ‘twenties, when his portraits borrowed strongly from Wyndham Lewis, alongside landscapes of shiny cuboid constructions. The troubled architect and painter Ralph Maynard Smith (1904-64) seems to have been quite outside organised surrealism, but his work, somewhat akin to that of Paul Nash, is well worth attention, and his legacy is now promoted by the Trust that bears his name, which maintains a revealing website.


Frederick MacDonald is another mystery, with just this single canvas on the BBC site, painted around 1960. I like the surrealist atmosphere and the period feel of these scratchy mechanomorphs. Much better known is Gordon Onslow Ford, friend of Matta and surrealist insider, though his force-line automatism deserves higher billing.

To be fair, some of these names may be rather less “lost” than others. I’ve not bothered with Dorothea Tanning, John Tunnard or Edward Wadsworth as all too well known. I’ve also left out Conroy Maddox, whom in any case I consider (despite – or rather because of – his affected surrealist ultra-orthodoxy) a mere pasticheur. Nor am I fond enough of the squidgy doodles of Desmond Morris. Well, it’s my choice. But to finish the round dozen, here’s another Birmingham name that, admittedly, is not truly “lost” – John Melville, a number of whose paintings feature children bewildered by nature. Michel Remy describes The Museum of Natural History of the Child as “one of the key paintings of British surrealism”, though he doesn’t really explain why. On the BBC site the title of the painting is altered and the image is mirrored. I imagine that Melville, who made a very spooky drawing of Carroll’s Alice, would have enjoyed that.

Some more lost surrealists

Here’s a second batch of lesser known surrealists or quasi-surrealists, culled from a continuing trawl of the BBC’s Your Paintings site. (First batch here. More to come, no doubt.) Again, I’m keeping to the “classic” period (‘thirties to ‘fifties). Though all here lived and worked in the UK, not all were British nationals, so I’ve left the “British” out of this post. Enjoy, as they say. Click for enlargement or slideshow.

Augustus Lunn is one of the many dismissed by Michel Remy, in Surrealism in Britain, as “constitutively incomplete” – surrealists by virtue of technique alone, lacking doctrinal rigour. In Lunn’s case, this seems particularly unfair. Though with Beatrice, Lady Glenavy, Dublin aesthete, pupil of William Orpen and friend of Katherine Mansfield, we are definitely at the decorative end of surrealism. She seems to have moved from late Pre-Raph to Catholic symbolism to a sort of twee deco, but for a while in the ‘thirties, she certainly flirted with surreality. But whatever the style, her work is always highly accomplished technically. With Fergus Graham, we seem to be at the fantasy end. Beyond a show at the Lefevre in 1935, I can’t say I know much more about him.

Ditto Margarethe Garthe, who was born in 1891, lived in Beckenham, had a show at the Loggia Gallery, London, in 1972 and died in 1976. Hein Heckroth, on the other hand, was a considerable name as an art director for film and stage, well connected with the surrealist movement and with other wartime emigrés. His film work has definite Dalinian tendencies, but this portrait opts for the full bonkers effect, with tweedy military theorist and historian Liddell Hart looking splendidly out of place among the pipes, severed ears and assorted squishy objects that litter the receding desert. Thomas Esmond Lowinsky is best known as a successful purveyor of cool, classical-deco whimsy, but this fine, tight little canvas, often on show at Wolverhampton Art Gallery, achieves rather more of a disturbing effect.

Poet and artist René Halkett (1900 – 1983) was a Bauhaus veteran who transplanted to Britain. Google-wise, he seems best known these days for his late collaboration with David J of the band Bauhaus, but drop his name into Google images and it’s clear that his artwork is well worth a browse, especially the earlier Dada stuff. American Charles Houghton Howard lived and worked in Britain before and after the war. His nicely clean cut biomorphism puts him at the abstract pole of surrealism, not too far from the messier and more instinctual Sam (Thomas Samuel) Haile, potter and night-time painter – the most pukka British surrealist of the lot in this selection. Remy’s chronicle rightly devotes several pages to Haile, who, he says, “aims at flaying and tearing surfaces to help vision become primary again”. Haile was a developed theorist, but his work is unsettlingly de-learned and outsiderish; it’s no surprise to find that he highly rated the work of fellow psychonauts Grace Pailthorpe and Reuben Mednikoff.

Some lost British surrealists

Browsing the BBC’s Your Paintings site (every oil painting in UK public collections) is one of life’s greater pleasures. The search facility may be erratic and site navigation a tad clunky, but who cares? In among the tottering heaps of sodden landscapes, zooming Spitfires and portraits of bored vice-chancellors can be found all sorts of hidden nuggets.

Here, for instance, is my selection (click to enlarge) of “lost” British surrealists from the ‘thirties to the ‘fifties – and this is only from surnames A to C. More to come in later posts, perhaps. Surprising how many of these names are Scots. Surprising too, how little ready information there is on some of them – only two Wikipedia entries here.

To be fair, some of these painters were very much on the margins of British surrealism, or even on the margins of the margins. In some cases the vogue for surrealism seems to have offered itself to otherwise anti-modernist purveyors of illusionism as the only acceptable form of modernism. Which may be telling. What emerges here is mainly a style, characterised by a kind of cool Deco tonality.

Though John Selby Bigge exhibited at the 1936 London Surrealist exhibition, he is dismissed abruptly from Michel Remy’s rather doctrinaire Surrealism in Britain on the grounds of not being surrealist enough. (Having said that, Remy similarly dismisses John Armstrong, which is absurd.) Both Edward Baird and James Cowie usually ploughed more orthodox furrows, but were clearly seduced by the still-lives-in-low-horizon-seascapes of Edward Wadsworth. Margaret Barnard seems better known for her lino cuts, having trained under Claude Flight, while of Alexander Allan, William Baillie and William Cosnahan I can say nothing except that they were born in 1914, 1905 and 1930 respectively. The painting by Angela Baynes is certainly a portrait, but for me it shares enough of a surrealist sensibility to qualify. I know nothing of her, and this seems to be the sole painting by her in public ownership.

surrealism in birminghamSadly, it seems the latter can also be said of Emmy Bridgwater, who is the odd girl out here, by virtue both of her style – anything but cool Deco – and of her role in the Birmingham Surrealist group, usefully chronicled in the catalogue to the 2001 Surrealism in Birmingham show. I include her here as not so much lost as neglected. But her tense, quirky spikiness is worth a dozen of the dutiful pastiches churned out by her Birmingham collaborator, the hugely overrated Conroy Maddox.

Outsider modernism: Edwin G Lucas

Terrorism, 1946

Here’s the sort of art you don’t see every day. Wasting spare time that I don’t have, googling about in Scottish painting of the ‘forties, I came across Edwin G Lucas. He seems to have started out as a skilled but rather safe landscape painter. The website devoted to marketing what looks like a massive cache of unsold Lucases states that in the late ‘thirties he enjoyed “a brief flirtation with Surrealism”. To be frank, it looks more to me as if he stumbled across a couple of early tabs of lysergic acid diethylamide.

Here are two or three of the best. These travel backwards through the bad taste barrier so far and so fast that they emerge somewhere at the other side of the universe as spectacularly (and postmodernly) good. I am reminded of Austin Osman Spare’s assertion (in The Book of Pleasure, 1914) that:

“Were you to say a certain principle is bad as Art (or as composition, colour etc.) it would simply be the chance for originality, and you could make a wonderful Art by utilizing only the prohibited or bad principle.”

Greek Ruffian, 1946

Head of a Clown, 1947

Lucas seems to have noticed that the rules were there to be broken, and to have set about breaking them with an entirely original abandon, paying only superficial attention to the orthodoxies of the avant garde. To be fair, some of his “experimental” work does not come off, appearing inept, misjudged, uninformed. At the same time, there is at least a courageous honesty about it that sets it well apart from, say, the tedious, cynically calculated badness of Martin Kippenberger. Lucas seems to have pretty much given up painting by the early ‘fifties, by which point his work had reached a sort of random, squodgy psychological automatism not too far away from Pailthorpe and Mednikoff. A real outsider modernist who, if only on the odd occasion, hit the nail on the head and came up with some breathtakingly disjointed pieces that were way out of the box,  and way out of their time.

Walking the Dog, 1949

When Reuben met Grace

Reuben Mednikoff, 'King of the Castle', 1938

A word in honour of British Surrealism’s oddest couple, the wonderful Mednikoff and Pailthorpe. After Grace Pailthorpe, psychoanalyst and mother figure, and Reuben Mednikoff, painter and child substitute, fell for each other (despite – or maybe because of – a two and a bit decades’ age gap) at a party given in 1935 by Victor Neuberg (forgotten Swinburnean poet and ex-acolyte of Aleister Crowley), they embarked promptly on a decade and a half of heroically intensive mutual psychoanalysis, using automatic drawing and painting as their chosen therapeutic method; in the process they generated hundreds of extraordinary artworks and uncounted pages of notes and interpretations. Much of their delving involved regression to infantile or even intra-uterine experience, and in late 1936 they developed a shared baby-talk language called “Curucuchoo”, in which they wrote a number of texts.

Reuben Mednikoff

 

Grace Pailthorpe

 

When their direction was deemed to diverge from the orthodoxy then required of the British surrealist group, their summary expulsion from it was engineered by E L T Mesens, bumptious and untalented Trotskyist, self-appointed group leader and André Breton’s mini-me. In 1940 the pair fled to New York, returning to England after the war. In 1948, Mednikoff was “adopted” by his mumsy lover, changing his name to Richard Pailthorpe.

Mednikoff, 'Bulbous Figure', c 1935

It’s hardly surprising that after fifteen years of squelchy, labyrinthine navel gazing, their project wound up as a school of art therapy; finally in the mid-sixties it descended inevitably into new-ageiness as the old-age duo took to the sub-Theosophical teachings of Alice A Bailey. Grace Pailthorpe died in 1971. Reuben Mednikoff, perhaps unable to live without her, died a few months later.

There is only one book about them – Sluice Gates of the Mind, the expanded catalogue to the 1998 exhibition of their work at the City Art Gallery, Leeds. This is well furnished with colour plates and original documents; it contains three substantial texts, but owes most to the exertions of Andrew Wilson. It’s on offer in some places (like many art books) at hopelessly silly prices, but I managed an as-new copy for a tenner.

Short of this, a quick starting point might be this breezy review at artcornwall.org. More determined readers might try the 2010 PhD thesis on the pair by Lee Ann Montanaro, downloadable as a pdf from the University of Edinburgh. It’s an academic study, so it proceeds at a stately pace, but her research has been grounded most thoroughly in primary materials from the rich Pailthorpe and Mednikoff archive at the Dean Gallery in Edinburgh, making this a highly informed piece of work. The only regret is that Montanaro cuts off her account at 1940. A curious side issue on which she sheds some light is the tangled fate of Pailthorpe and Mednikoff’s papers before they were acquired as an archive, in relation to the unpublished study of Dr David Rumney.

Mednikoff, 'April 21 1935 - 4'

At this distance, as Freudian and Kleinian theory slide away into the Museum of Discredited Ideas, the endless and obsessive interpretations and analytical descriptions of the drawings and paintings tend to shed their fascination. The detailed identifications of murky and brutal symbolisms – mother, anus, penis, faeces etc – are extraordinary and compelling in small doses, but there’s only so much of this stuff that you might want to read. It’s the images that last. Of the two image makers, Pailthorpe, being untrained, is the lesser artist, though much of her work has a naïve/brut appeal. But Mednikoff, with the skills and experience of a commercial artist, brings an excitingly convincing plasticity to his automatic squiggles, which morph wonderfully and tonally into three dimensions, or suggest unpleasant cartoons drawn by Joan Miró on acid.

Pailthorpe, 'The Blazing Infant', 1940

By the ‘sixties, Pailthorpe’s paintings had become rather more decorative, with loose washes of primary colour. Much happier, in fact. Which suggests a resolution of some sort at the end of all those desperate years of birth trauma and castration. One would like to think so. But in any case, what a heroic endeavour! They may have sailed on Sargasso seas, but Pailthorpe and Mednikoff were true Argonauts of the Unconscious. We should salute them, at the very least, for the near-superhuman stature of their obsessions.

Mednikoff, 'Caucasian Blancmange', 1938

Lost in the travelling: the odd novels of Ruthven Todd

More neo-romantic oddity. A new post here (or via the tab up top) on the out of print politico-surrealist fantasies of Ruthven Todd. A little long for here, so made up as a page.