It’s Day 170 and I had a full day. Been driving on my own…big deal for me, probably silly for most of you! Had a productive and emotional time at therapy…extra long double session so had some breakthroughs which was lovely, but also very tiring. Had to finish up feedback for my writing group and now it’s 11pm and I’m finally finishing the blog. Oh yes, I also painted so let’s honor the wonderful Richard Hamilton today.
Richard William Hamilton CH (24 February 1922 – 13 September 2011) was a British painter and collage artist. His 1955 exhibition Man, Machine and Motion (Hatton Gallery, Newcastle upon Tyne) and his 1956 collage, Just what is it that makes today’s homes so different, so appealing?, produced for the This Is Tomorrow exhibition of the Independent Group in London, are considered by critics and historians to be among the earliest works of pop art. A major retrospective of his work is at Tate Modern until May 2014.
Hamilton was born in Pimlico, London. Despite having left school with no formal qualifications, he
managed to gain employment as an apprentice working at an electrical components firm, where he discovered an ability for draughtsmanship and began to do painting at evening classes at Saint Martin’s School of Art. This led to his entry into the Royal Academy Schools.
After spending the war working as a technical draftsman, he re-enrolled at the Royal Academy Schools but was later expelled on grounds of “not profiting from the instruction”, loss of his student status forcing Hamilton to carry out National Service. After two years at the Slade School of Art, University College, London, Hamilton began exhibiting his work at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA), where he also produced posters and leaflets and teaching at the Central School of Art and Design.
Hamilton’s early work was much influenced by D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson’s 1917 text On Growth and Form. In 1952, at the first Independent Group meeting, held at the ICA, Hamilton was introduced to Eduardo Paolozzi’s seminal presentation of collages produced in the late 1940s and early 1950s that are now considered to be the first standard bearers of Pop Art. Also in 1952, he was introduced to the Green Box notes of Marcel Duchamp through Roland Penrose, whom Hamilton had met at the ICA. At the ICA, Hamilton was responsible for the design and installation of a number of exhibitions including one on James Joyce and The Wonder and the Horror of the Human Head that was curated by Penrose. It was also through Penrose that Hamilton met Victor Pasmore who gave him a teaching post based in Newcastle Upon Tyne which lasted until 1966. Among the students Hamilton tutored at Newcastle in this period were Rita Donagh, Mark Lancaster, Tim Head, Roxy Music founder Bryan Ferry and Ferry’s visual collaborator Nicholas De Ville. Hamilton’s influence can be found in the visual styling and approach of Roxy Music.
Hamilton gave a 1959 lecture, “Glorious Technicolor, Breathtaking Cinemascope and Stereophonic Sound”, a phrase taken from a Cole Porter
lyric in the 1957 musical Silk Stockings. In that lecture, which sported a pop soundtrack and the demonstration of an early Polaroid camera, Hamilton deconstructed the technology of cinema to explain how it helped to create Hollywood’s allure. He further developed that theme in the early 1960s with a series of paintings inspired by film stills and publicity shots.
The post at the ICA also afforded Hamilton the time to further his research on Duchamp, which resulted in the 1960 publication of a typographic version of Duchamp’s Green Box, which comprised Duchamp’s original notes for the design and construction of his famous work The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even, also known as The Large Glass. Hamilton’s 1955 exhibition of paintings at the Hanover
Gallery were all in some form a homage to Duchamp. In the same year Hamilton organized the exhibition Man Machine Motion at the Hatton Gallery in Newcastle. Designed to look more like an advertising display than a conventional art exhibition the show prefigured Hamilton’s contribution to the This Is Tomorrow exhibition in London, at the Whitechapel Gallery the following year. Just what is it that makes today’s homes so different, so appealing? was created in 1956 for the catalogue of This Is Tomorrow, where it was reproduced in black and white and also used in posters for the exhibit. The collage depicts a muscle-man provocatively holding a Tootsie Pop and a woman with large, bare breasts wearing a lampshade hat, surrounded by emblems of 1950s affluence from a vacuum cleaner to a large canned ham. Just what is it that makes today’s homes so different, so appealing? is widely acknowledged as one of the first pieces of Pop Art and his written definition of what ‘pop’ is laid the ground for the whole international movement. Hamilton’s definition of Pop Art from a letter to Alison and Peter Smithson dated 16 January 1957 was – “Pop Art is: popular, transient, expendable, low-cost, mass-produced, young, witty, sexy, gimmicky, glamorous, and Big Business” – stressing its everyday, commonplace values. He thus created collages incorporating advertisements from mass-circulation newspapers and magazines.
The success of This Is Tomorrow secured Hamilton further teaching assignments in particular at the Royal College of Art from 1957 to 1961,
where he promoted David Hockney and Peter Blake. During this period Hamilton was also very active in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and produced a work parodying the then leader of the Labour Party Hugh Gaitskell for rejecting a policy of unilateral nuclear disarmament. In the early 1960s he received a grant from the Arts Council to investigate the condition of the Kurt Schwitters ‘Merzbau’ in Cumbria. The research eventually resulted in Hamilton organising the preservation of the work by relocating it to the Hatton Gallery in the Newcastle University.
In 1962 his first wife Terry was killed in a car crash and in part to recover from this he travelled for the first time to the United States in 1963 for a retrospective of the works of Marcel Duchamp at the Pasadena Art Museum, where, as well as meeting other leading pop artists, he was befriended by Duchamp. Arising from this Hamilton curated the first British retrospective of Duchamp’s work, and his familiarity with The Green Box enabled Hamilton to make copies of The Large Glass and other glass works too fragile to travel. The exhibition was shown at the Tate Gallery in 1966.
In 1968, Hamilton appeared in a Brian De Palma film titled Greetings where Hamilton portrays a pop artist showing a “Blow Up” image. The film was the first film in the United States to receive a X rating and it was also Robert De Niro’s first motion picture.
From the mid-1960s, Hamilton was represented by Robert Fraser and even produced a series of prints Swingeing London based on Fraser’s arrest, along with Mick Jagger, for possession of drugs. This association with the 1960s pop music scene continued as Hamilton became friends with Paul McCartney resulting in him producing the cover design and poster collage for the Beatles’ White Album.
Hamilton died on 13 September 2011, at the age of 89. His work Le chef d’oeuvre inconnu – a painting in three parts, unfinished at his death, comprises a trio of large inkjet prints composed from Photoshop images to visualize the moment of crisis in Balzac’s novel The Unknown Masterpiece.
Partial biography from wikipedia.
Wow, Richard Hamilton has such a body of work that I could emulate. I thought of
doing something along the lines of his “Interior” series. It felt like that was the obvious choice, but then I saw his piece, Portrait of Hugh Gaitskell as a Famous Monster of Filmland and instantly became inspired. I thought about who I wanted to collage and paint and then I thought of Henry Kissinger for some reason. And THEN I thought of my friends’ John and Mark’s band Sizzling Mansions and how they have a song called, Kissinger Smile (which I love) and thought I’d do something inspired by that song! I always laugh when they sing, “You got that Kissinger smile”. So that’s basically the background of how I came up with my absurd (in a good way) tribute to Richard Hamilton. I hope you enjoy it because I definitely had that Kissinger smile as I painted it. And please don’t ask what that means because I have no idea. See you tomorrow on Day 171. Best, Linda