Maddox, Conroy Ronald
- Silvano Levy
Conroy Ronald Maddox (1912–2005)
Maddox, Conroy Ronald (1912–2005), artist, was born on 27 December 1912 at 8 The Homend, Ledbury, Herefordshire, the only son and elder child of Albert George Maddox (1886–1958), rate collector and Territorial Force volunteer, and his wife, Eleanor Annie, née Ballinger (1884–1975). His sister, Eleanor Joan, was born on 29 December 1913. His earliest memory, which was to influence his mature paintings, was of travelling to a Manchester hospital in August 1915 with his sister and mother to visit his father, who had been wounded at Gallipoli. His elementary education began in 1918 at the Court House School, where he was singled out for an art prize. From there he went in 1924 to Ledbury grammar school and then the newly opened Chipping Norton county school, when the family moved to Chipping Norton in 1928 to take proprietorship of the Blue Boar inn. He spent his free time painting landscapes in one of the inn stables. In 1933 the Maddox family moved again, to Birmingham, where Maddox's father became a representative in the wine and spirits trade. Aged twenty, Maddox started work as a clerical assistant in a solicitor's office. He went on to be an assistant in an analytical laboratory and then a designer in a car mascot casting firm. By 1935 he was working more permanently as a designer of trade fair exhibition stands.
The year 1935 also coincided with Maddox's discovery of surrealism, which he regarded as a turning point. He visited the International Surrealist Exhibition in London in 1936 and spent the summer of 1937 in Paris, attending classes at the art academy in the rue de la Grande Chaumière, where he experimented with 'invented surrealist transformations of the model'. On his return he exhibited at the Birmingham Group exhibition at the Lucy Wertheim Gallery in September 1937. By this time he had met the painter John Melville and his brother Robert, a writer and art critic, with both of whom he formed the nucleus of the surrealist group in Birmingham, which was to include Eric Malthouse, Desmond Morris, Emmy Bridgwater, Oscar Mellor, Stephen Gilbert, and William Gear. In the summer of 1938 Maddox again stayed in Paris, where he associated with William Gear, Reinhart Kalnine, and Georges Hugnet, and met Marcel Duchamp and Man Ray, the last of whom influenced his Onanistic Typewriter (1940), a typewriter that sports vertical nails on each of its keys. In January 1939 he participated in the Living Art in England exhibition at the London Gallery, the nerve centre of surrealism in Britain, and had a page devoted to him in London Bulletin, the surrealist journal edited by E. L. T. Mesens. Maddox's artistic production at this time was diverse: his lyrical, colourful gouaches depicting biomorphic, semi-abstract figures contrasted with collages containing violent and erotic surrealist juxtapositions. His object-mannequin Cloak of Secrecy (1940) was suggestive of dismembered limbs and a severed female body.
At the outbreak of the Second World War Maddox entered a reserved profession with the Birmingham firm Turner Brothers, manufacturers of aircraft parts. He continued to flourish as an artist and played a key role in the Zwemmer Gallery's Surrealism Today exhibition, for which, as well as exhibiting, he designed a window display in which a child's cot containing rumpled sheets was transfixed by a dagger. His collages were equally disconcerting and, at the height of the war, several were seized by the special branch during a raid on the home of Simon Watson Taylor, on suspicion of being coded messages to the enemy or anarchist propaganda. Ironically, Maddox's war work had intensified at this time with a posting to British Thomson–Houston in Rugby for secret work on the stereopticon projector used by Rank Studios. In that year he met Wilhelmina Nancy (Nan) Burton (1924–1996) and entered a relationship even though Nan was married to Wilfred Sullivan Bruce Burton. Two children were born outside wedlock, Stefan (1945–1971) and (Wilhelmina) Lee (b. 1947). The couple had settled at 29 Speedwell Road, Edgbaston, in 1946, but it was not until 14 February 1948, following Nan's divorce, that they married, at Birmingham register office. The choice of a register office was significant. Maddox maintained that organized religion was corrupt and he repeatedly attacked the clergy in his work. At times this attitude resulted in irreverent humour, particularly evident in a series of staged photographs, Entertaining a Nun (1946), in which Maddox progressively inebriates and plays pranks on a young woman dressed as a nun. At this time he also invented the semi-automatic procedure of ‘écrémage’, which ranks alongside coulage, fumage, grattage, and decalcomania as a surrealist painting technique.
In 1954 Maddox and his family moved to London but he and Nan soon separated, and were living apart in 1955. A new relationship began with Pauline Drayson (b. 1935) in 1957 and, with her financial help, Maddox settled at 17A Lambolle Road, Belsize Park, in 1965. There he developed a more representational style of painting, as well as experimenting with pop art techniques. The 1967 surrealist festival, The Enchanted Domain, involved Maddox both as exhibitor and organizer, and served to renew his friendship with E. L. T. Mesens, with whom he collaborated on collages. The early 1970s saw great productivity and regular exhibitions in London, as well as regular contact with the Chicago surrealist group. The premature death of Maddox's son, Stefan, in 1971 prompted a stream of unsettling, grief-ridden paintings, such as Residue of the Day (1971). A fascination with hysteria and the nineteenth-century Parisian neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot led to works depicting madness and mayhem at the Pitié-Salpêtrière hospital, which was in keeping with the defamiliarization of the commonplace that underpinned all his work. When the Hayward Gallery mounted the Dada and Surrealism Reviewed exhibition in 1978, Maddox felt that surrealism had not been properly represented and promptly organized a protest exhibition, Surrealism Unlimited.
In 1979 Maddox met Deborah (Des) Mogg (b. 1963), who became his final companion. A retrospective was held at the Stoke-on-Trent City Art Gallery in 1995, and the last of some twenty one-man exhibitions was held at Whitford Fine Art in 2002. During his seventy years as an active surrealist, Maddox produced over 2000 works and constantly championed the theoretical purism of the surrealist movement. He died on 14 January 2005 in the Royal Free Hospital, Camden, London, of bronchopneumonia and was cremated in Finchley, north London, on the 21st. His ashes were scattered in the garden of his home. He was survived by Des, Pauline, and his daughter, Lee.
- S. Levy, ed., Conroy Maddox: surreal enigmas (1995)
- S. Levy, The scandalous eye: the surrealism of Conroy Maddox (2003)
- The Independent (15 Jan 2005)
- The Times (17 Jan 2005)
- The Guardian (19 Jan 2005)
- Daily Telegraph (21 Jan 2005)
- personal knowledge (2009)
- private information (2009)
- b. cert.
- m. cert.
- d. cert.
- BFINA, documentary footage
- BL NSA, National Life Story Collection, artists' lives, interviews with R. Dutt, 1996,1997, 1998, F6321–F6328
- photograph, 1938, priv. coll. [see illus.]
- T. Evans, bromide print, 1985, NPG
- M. Gerson, cibrachrome print from original transparency, 1987, NPG
- C. Maddox, self-portrait, oils (after Moreau); Phillips, 14 Jan 1992, lot 120
- Z. Roboz, charcoal drawing, repro. in Z. Roboz and others, British art now: a personal view (1993), 49
- Z. Roboz, oils, repro. in Z. Roboz and others, British art now: a personal view (1993), 95
- obituary photographs
Wealth at Death
£571,880: probate, 20 Oct 2005, CGPLA Eng. & Wales