The Surrealism Website
Conroy Maddox (1912-2005)




Clearly the major character in British surrealism was Conroy Maddox. In the early 1930's Maddox had discovered surrealism and in 1935, together with John Melville, he set up the Birmingham group of surrealist artists. They were not happy with the London based International Surrealist Exhibition in 1936 and did not take part. This group continued to work independently of the London based surrealists until the mid 1950s.
An early surrealist piece is his The Lesson of 1938.
He was also drawn to abstract forms as exemplified by his painting of 1939 Rendezvous and he often liked to create collages. One of his best known such collages from this period is The Strange country of 1940. In the mid 1940s he produced a number of significant figurative surrealist paintings. The Stillness of the Day with its de Chirico style interior and the rather wonderful device of depicting a trompe d'oeil, but out of scale, fly at the bottom left. Morning encounter shows a young girl puzzling over some strange devices and objects, appearing like some factory or other such installation of machinery. These two pieces created during the Second World War seem entirely detached from external events but Rue de Seine subtitled The house of George Hugnet appears to reference the war. Hugnet was a surrealist painter and maker of collages in Paris who during the war became an active member of the French Resistance. We see through the windows of the house various tableaux that could suggest the disruption of a search of the artist's house by the authorities.
The 1950s and 60s saw Maddox's Illusionist and reclining figure which demonstrates his other more abstract style of working. His 1970 painting Passage de l'Opera incorporates the bowler hatted men which Rene Magritte loved to use as elements in his work. This painting was apparently inspired by a novel by the Surrealist writer Louis Aragon. Maddox later wrote, "Aragon points out that his wanderings around the Passage de l'Opéra were without purpose, yet he waited for something to happen, something strange or abnormal, so as to permit him a glimpse of a new order of things." We see here the bowler hatted men which by then were a key element of Rene Magritte's work. The Passage de l'Opéra was also a notorious pick up point for Parisian prostitutes.
Maddox enjoyed using the device of an interior with a distant view across a deserted plain in which some strange possibility seems to be presented to the figure in the foreground. Thus the Sanctuary shows an older man in his strange house complete with steam engine but with a half clothed woman looking in from the outside. The Astronomer has a Jodrell Bank style radio telescope in the plane opening behind his house. While the Late Sleeper seems to be about to be awakened by the intrusion of a steam engine into the background space.
Maddox continued working for over sixty years until he died in 2005. He kept faithful to surrealism, while many other artists merely used the style for a few years before moving on.