Inside pop art star Peter Blake’s studio of curiosities
A new monograph and exhibition explore the fantastical life, work and studio of British pop art’s ‘godfather’ Peter Blake
‘Peter understands that collage places one time on top of another,’ says David Hockney in the foreword of Peter Blake’s major new monograph published by Thames & Hudson. And Hockney, perhaps more than most, would know about the tangled role of time in the work of Peter Blake; they were, after all, school friends.
Throughout his seven-decade career – which included co-designing the famed album sleeve for the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – the octogenarian artist has redefined what collage can be: a collision of media, genre, time and space.
Much like his collage, Blake’s Chiswick studio displays a pathological passion for amassing a dizzyingly broad assortment of things. Through newly commissioned photography, the monograph offers a rare peek inside Blake’s studio. It’s a portal to another world, brimming with 50,000 items including a fleet of model ships and a dresser piled high with hats for every mood and occasion – this is where the magic happens.
Peter Blake: Collage coincides with a survey exhibition at Waddington Custot in London. Titled ‘Peter Blake: Time Traveller’, the show is a journey through the artist’s distinctive approach to collage-making, includes works from Blake’s Alphabet and Museum of Black and White series, as well as pieces made in homage to fellow artists Sonia Delaunay, Kurt Schwitters and Robert Rauschenberg.
The show begins with Blake’s early experiments with collaged paper after he encountered work by Schwitters in the 1950s, and travels through his rise to prominence to his current, self-proclaimed Late Period and most recent digital-print photo collages. It reveals his knack for extracting fragments of banal reality, and transforming them into compositions that could only exist in imagination. Blake’s approach to precise and bold combinations was recently echoed in Blake’s recipe contribution to Wallpaper’s Artist’s Palate series, the quintessentially British ’beans on toast’.
Collage has allowed Blake to construct a parallel universe, in which logic can be warped, fantasy reigns and reality doesn’t matter. In his surreal cut-and-paste compositions, clowns square up to wrestlers and icons brush shoulders with kitsch souvenirs and holiday postcards. In Mystery Tour £2.10s. 0d (2005), Marcel Duchamp meets the Spice Girls and the cast of The Wizard of Oz. ‘I suppose I’m sending poor old Marcel [Duchamp] off for life, for eternity, on this world tour which is perhaps my world tour. You know, perhaps it’s my fantasy and he’s my alter ego being sent off to meet Elvis and the Spice Girls,’ Blake said of the piece.
On view for the first time is the artist’s largest canvas to date, Late Period: Battle. Blake began the work in 1964, but it was abandoned and left unfinished until he turned to collage to complete the work in 2018.
Both the book and show are deep dives into Blake’s command of collage. They also captures the artist’s flair for fusing seemingly disparate, distinct items, figures and scenes into one cohesive artwork, one that has cemented his status as the ‘Godfather of British pop art’.
As Hockney’s foreword concludes, ‘His work looks back, but they are always really about the now and contemporary culture. Nobody has done anything quite like them. They’re terrific.’ §