Unless you have been hiding under a stone this week, you cannot have failed to notice how British artist Richard Hamilton has launched a posthumous takeover of London. Today, a major retrospective of the late Pop Artist’s work opens at Tate Modern; yesterday, the Institute of Contemporary Arts unveiled two installations originally created by Hamilton in the 1950s, and tonight, his lifelong forays into printmaking are honoured at the Mayfair gallery Alan Cristea.
Does the artist, who died in 2011, deserve such celebration? Yes, as it happens. Hamilton is feted as the father of British Pop Art, as an astute visual chronicler of our times. In the 1960s and 1970s, he depicted rock stars arrested on drugs charges (Mick Jagger), mod cons (TVs, Braun toasters, stereo systems), and Hollywood stars (Marilyn, Bing Crosby). In the 1980s, collages such as 'The Citizen' dealt with the IRA and The Troubles, and were proof that Hamilton was not afraid to tackle politics as well as popular culture.
A centrepiece of the Tate show is 'Fun House' (1956), a room featuring images from movie-posters, magazines and art history. The infamous collage 'Just what is it that makes today’s homes so different, so appealing?' is there. Consisting of images lifted from mainly American magazines, it features a naked body builder in a modern sitting room and is the work in which the word ‘Pop’ first appeared, defined by Hamilton himself. ‘Pop Art is popular, transient, expendable, low-cost, mass-produced, young, witty, sexy, gimmicky, glamorous, and Big Business,’ he wrote in 1957.
Although a painter and printmaker first and foremost, Hamilton also taught, designed and curated installations. In further homage, Dover Street Market (which was home to the ICA between 1950 and 1968) has scattered archival material across all six floors. It was here that Hamilton first installed the works on show at the current ICA and here that he would meet with the Independent Group, a group of free thinkers who were a precursor to the Pop Art movement.
In 2010, aged 88, he created ‘Shock and Awe’ - Tony Blair as a gunslinger. He never lost his edge. Yet alongside David Hockney and Lucien Freud, he was an unsung hero. The triptych of shows suggests his time has finally come.
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Emma O'Kelly is a contributing editor at Wallpaper*. She joined the magazine on issue 4 as news editor and since since then has worked in full and part time roles across many editorial departments. She is a freelance journalist based in London and works for a range of titles from Condé Nast Traveller to The Telegraph. She is currently working on a book about Scandinavian sauna culture and is renovating a mid century house in the Italian Lakes.
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