Sir Roland Penrose
T03819 House the Light-house
Pencil, gouache, ink and collage on paper 590 x 840 (23 1/2 x 33 1/8)
Inscribed ‘Roland Penrose 1983' b.r. and ‘House the Light-house | 1983' on back t.l.
Presented anonymously 1984
Exh: Roland Penrose, Recent Collages, Mayor Gallery, Nov.-Dec. 1983 (no cat.)
Lit: David Gascoyne, ‘Roland Penrose' in Roland Penrose, Collages Récents, exh. cat. Galerie Henriette Gomès, Paris 1982.
Antony Penrose, the artist's son, wrote of this collage in a letter to the Tate Gallery on 8th January 1988:
During 1983 Roland spent considerable time in Trouville in France in the company of Diane Deriaz. He made many collages whilst staying in the Hotel there. I don't recall him visiting the Mediterranean about that period but there is nothing to say that he didn't use postcards from that region. He used to choose postcards more for their tonality than anything else. Cards which had a striking image were not much use to him.
He also used cards which had a regular rhythm in the composition such as the pictures of the high rise buildings and yachts, waves or landscapes. These images allow themselves to be cut up and repositioned very easily without asserting the meaning of the original image.
Roland's titles usually presented themselves in his mind while he worked on his collages. It was rare for him to set out with a title at the beginning of the work and he used to explain that the ideas and the title just appeared from nowhere as he shuffled the pieces of card and paper around.
The titles usually contained a pun and I would suggest that House the Light-House is, in fact, ‘how's the light-house?'. Sometimes titles were quite arbitrary like ‘It Was Raining', because it just happened to be raining while he was working.
Collages were Roland's main work as an artist after the middle 50s. His work at the ICA put an end to any serious painting, but he made many collages. It was not until his involvement with the ICA and Scrap Book was finally completed that he gave himself the time to return wholeheartedly to collage making. Although he had a beautiful well appointed studio in Sussex, he made most of his collages whilst on holiday. He always explained that being away from England allowed his ideas to flow freely. Towards the very end of his life, as his eyesight started to fail and, therefore, reading and writing became extremely difficult, collage making became the only outlet for his creativity. His collages were principally made to please himself. He wasn't the slightest bit interested in doing great works for posterity, and no amount of persuasion could induce him to use more colourfast ink or durable glues. He also insisted on coating everything with dulling spray to take the shine off the cards. In later years this has had a very unfortunate effect on some of the surfaces.
A final look at ‘House the Light-House' reminds me that Roland's full-blooded love of women was a very dominating factor in his work. The symbols of female voluptuousness, sexual power and mystery are very clear in this particular collage.
The Tate Gallery 1984-86: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions Including Supplement to Catalogue of Acquisitions 1982-84, Tate Gallery, London 1988, pp.546-7