Sir Roland Penrose (1900-1984) was an English artist, historian and poet. During the WWII he put his artistic skills to practical use as a teacher of camouflage. Roland grew up in a strict Quaker family. In 1918, as a conscientious objector, he joined the Ambulance Unit, serving with the British Red Cross in Italy. After studying architecture at Cambridge, Penrose switched to painting. In 1938 Penrose organized a tour of Picasso’s Guernica that raised funds for Republican Government in Spain…

Roland Penrose, “Good Shooting”, 1939

Roland Penrose as almost all surrealists was never too careful about allowing himself the pleasure of shocking the bourgeoisie. In some his paintings epater le bourgeois was his favorite “game” (in surrealist context, “game” doesn’t have today’s meaning of self-entertainment and/or money-making). It means logical, inspirational and spiritual concentration. And it means the critical analysis of human condition.

We see in Penrose’s painting that a woman with a beautiful torso is chained to a wall. And we see rather numerous traces of bullets around her figure – she was tortured by a well-known entertainment event for torturers named mock execution. The lower – the most precious part of the woman’s body is covered (by men who chained her) from guns and bullets by a combination of leather and iron. And that is not surprising. Men can agree to lose many qualities in their women but not that which is men’s paradise.

The woman’s blond hair is as crowns of trees, her incredibly attractive body and her face are full of light and sky and lake – in other words – tranquility and relaxation, fresh air and brightness. But… where is her real – human face? Here is one of the painting’s surrealist ruses. In Penrose‘s painting the beauty of female face is as if reduced to the landscape men like to share with women in widespread ritual of consumption of femininity – innocent and imperative pleasure of the men who like guns, shooting and women.

Human faces, according to god’s phantasy or caprice, are particular and specific. While they look similarly yet they are far from being identical. But Penrose here decides to go to the essence and reduce the face of a woman into components of man’s natural pleasure – a wild beach, sun, nudity, breeze, sky, light and opened trembling softness of a woman’s body moving in a languorous way. In other words, Penrose transforms the specificity of woman’s face into a generalized “makeup” of a common physical pleasure in the middle of nature – man’s impulsive and despotic sexual excitement, the twin of a good shooting intercourse. Of course, to transform woman’s face into a beach is a radical elimination of woman’s humanity and her natural albeit primal attractiveness. But violence was avoided – woman’s sexual paradise for men is protected.

Another way of eliminating woman’s face is to transform it into cosmetic makeup, not only that of “nature’s makeup”. Men are afraid of woman’s natural face – of her independent character, of her real or potential mind. But her sexual resources to satisfy men must be preserved as they are – they belong to men, to men’s sexual needs. Men freeze women’s sexual anatomy and transform her face into cosmetic or sand beach landscape. In other words, men have tamed women’s attractiveness by making it artificial and decorative – cosmetic (dollish) or sand-beachy.

The woman chained to the wall in Penrose’s painting which is registering the inventive ways of men’s violence against the opposite gender and their amorous dedication to guns and constant fight for power, makes us appreciate the painter’s futuristic realism, because today we live in a new century that is already victimized by conservative money-profit predators inventively looting the public resources.

But reality is that man and woman are amorously fixated on each other and it is for this reason a reciprocal manipulation and entanglement comes from the reality of human intimacy. In his painting “Good Shooting” Roland Penrose combines two metaphors of disturbing motifs of man-woman relationships – good shooting as violence against woman and “good sex” as male bravado addressing sexuality with woman. Good shooting as violence is the inability of a hyper masculinized and infantilized male psyche to love a woman’s face without makeup – as part of her body, while a good sex/fornicating is men’s disinterestedness to care about a woman’s humanity and her orgasmic culmination. The less humanistic education a man has internalized – the less proclivities he has for humanism and practical democracy. Man develops indifference towards a woman’s being and personality. Step by step man’s fixation on financial competition, private weapons and money-profit compensates him for growing indifference for woman as a human being. A woman for this kind of man is transformed into a mannequin as we see in Penrose’s painting. A woman’s orgasm becomes for such a man a signal of his masculine extra-potency – a trophy for his super-maleness. He needs more of such trophies, and it means – more females are adoring and admiring him for more and more financial rewards on his part.

Eventually the super-male picks women who fit him, with a face like smooth sand on the beach and/or like cosmetic makeup. He completely loses the feeling that woman is just another human being. And he has forgotten that long ago he himself was a human being – sensitive, awkward, not knowing what to do. But he is moving to the feeling of self-satisfaction. He feels mountains of banknotes accumulates around him. And his eternal wife, as he suddenly notices is quite happy to sometimes sit on this mountain. “Good shooting” became for him and for his women “good money”. His children become good money-makers. And money can provide a paradisiacal beach and cosmetic immortality.

Roland Penrose (1900-1984)

Roland Penrose in his mature years