The Director’s Archive: Lee Miller & Roland Penrose – Sussex Collages (1984)

In 1984, Modern Art Oxford presented a small show of late collages produced by Roland Penrose in the early 1980s, combined with photographs taken by his photographer wife Lee Miller in 1953. Organised by the Gardner Centre Gallery, University of Sussex, the show included two bodies of work in dialogue with each other. Collages made by Penrose from photographic materials collected on visits to France, Sri Lanka, Kenya and the Seychelles were shown with fashion photographs from Miller – who was in the final years of her working for Vogue at that time – and her photographs of the Sussex landscapes and with friends, such as Picasso and Henry Moore, who visited the Penrose farm in Sussex.  The exhibition captured both the domestic intimacy of the English avant-garde in the post-war period infused with the spirit of Surrealism, of which Penrose – a painter, poet, writer and art collector – and Lee Miller were leading figures. 

Top: ‘Henry Moore with his sculpture, Mother and Child, Farleys garden, East Sussex, England 1953’ by Lee Miller. Bottom: ‘How do you like Sri Lanka Sir, Collage 1981’ by Roland Penrose

I selected this exhibition because I have been an admirer of Penrose’s signature postcard collages since I first came across them as a student in the mid 1980s. But also, reflecting on the emerging realities of the so-called ‘Brexit’ era, this show evidences the importance of personal relationships and private exchange between English and continental artists, relationships which were so valued and productive in the years immediately following World War Two. Networks of dialogue and collaboration between artists across the world have been, and continue to be, central to the vitality and diversity of contemporary visual culture as a feature of a healthy society, and all social or political developments which inhibit or undermine international exchange should be fiercely resisted at all costs.

‘Roland Penrose in his studio, Farleys, East Sussex, England 1983’ by Antony Penrose

All Lee Miller material, works and photographs are © Lee Miller Archives, England 2016. All rights reserved. All Roland Penrose material, works and photographs are © Roland Penrose Estate, England 2016. All rights reserved.

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