Exhibition explores surrealist artists Lee Miller and Roland Penrose's travels through the Balkans

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Exhibition explores surrealist artists Lee Miller and Roland Penrose's travels through the Balkans
Roland Penrose Roma Gypsy children, 1938. Brasov Romania © Lee Miller Archives, England 2020. All rights reserved. leemiller.co.uk

CHIDDINGLY.- Farleys House & Gallery is presenting The Road is Wider than Long, an exhibition exploring surrealist artists Lee Miller and Roland Penrose’s travels through the Balkans in the Summer of 1938, shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War. Photographs taken by Miller and Penrose during this trip are being displayed together, including many by Miller which have never been seen before. The couple’s photographs capture the surreal landscapes they encountered whilst travelling through Greece, Romania and Bulgaria, and document the traditions of local people such as the Roma, whose ways of living would later fall victim to political turmoil and world events of the mid 20th century.

The exhibition provides a fascinating glimpse into the lives of two artists and their journey of discovery in a world that would soon be transformed forever. Lee Miller’s camera in particular quietly observed the local traditions they encountered along the way and pictures of Miller by Penrose often show her immersed with the people they met. Miller made a particular attachment to a group of Roma who, before she parted, made her a special ceremonial sheepskin coat, hand embroidered with decorations and her initials which is now part of the collection at Farleys House & Gallery. When Miller returned to Romania in 1946 following the Second World War, she found that most of the Roma travellers she had met almost a decade earlier had been sent to the Nazi death camps.

On their return, the trip would form the basis of Penrose’s book The Road is Wider than Long, one of the earliest examples of a British Surrealist photobook, created as a love poem for Miller who had returned to her life in Cairo, Egypt and Roland to London. Drawn from his own memories and records of the couple’s trip, the original handwritten photobook was bound in shoe leather. This intimate publication has an important place in the history of Surrealist literature and Roland soon adapted it for self-publication through his London gallery.

The first edition of 510 copies included ten that had photographs tipped in, and small illuminations Penrose had added in watercolor which he gave as gifts. A copy bearing the personalised inscription “For Lee who caught me in her cup of gold” was gifted to Miller, with other copies going to artist friends including Paul and Nusch Éluard, Man Ray and Max Ernst.

Facsimile copies of both the handwritten and the first printed edition of The Road is Wider than Long dedicated to Lee Miller have been specially printed by the Lee Miller Archives to accompany the exhibition.

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