2014 was definitely the year of Richard Hamilton as I was lucky enough to go to two exhibitions of his work: Tate Modern and The Williamson Art Gallery and Museum in Birkenhead.
I actually thought that he was someone I hadn’t heard about before. However, it shows how some images make their way into your psyche and you simply know them so well.
This collage from 1956 is a wonderful social study of the effects of consumerism alongside growing technology. In 1992, as part of the QED series, Hamilton remade this collage using computer software. The result demonstrates his understanding of what is important on a superficial level.
Hamilton is acknowledged as the father of pop art. In a letter in 1957 he gave the criteria for all who followed: “Pop Art is: popular, transient, expendable, low-cost, mass-produced, young, witty, sexy, gimmicky, glamorous, and Big Business”, stressing its everyday, commonplace values.” When applying this to, say , Warhol’s work, you can see he had a point.
However, his 1965 ‘My Marilyn’ flies in the face of this statement. Whereas we can categorise Warhol’s screenprints as ‘pop art’, Hamilton is showing the ugly and destructive side of celebrity and one that has resonance when considering Monroe’s life and death. Marilyn vetted her photographs and was vociferous with a pin, lipstick, pen…anything that could obliterate the image. These final shots of Marilyn show a woman full of confidence but it is only on a superficial level as her own self-loathing would take over and Hamilton is showing us a true reflection of a woman full of contradictions that only became apparent after her death.
Hamilton’s political works really struck a chord, particularly the installation ‘Treatment Room’. Having grown up during Thatcher’s reign, this was interesting. There is a real contrast with the optimism of the 50s collages he created and Hamilton seems to be revealing to us a bleak portrayal of what society is now focused on – submission through power. The video is typical ‘Thatcher as Leader’ pose and Hamilton does end his text accompanying Treatment room by asking: ‘Is the vision of Mrs Thatcher patronising a victim of the health service part of that future we once thought so bright?’ Echoes of 1984.
While Tate Modern was a huge retrospective, the smaller one at the Williamson: ‘Word and Image: Prints 1963-2007′ was an absolute delight – two rooms and no people!! The best way to see some of the famous pieces -which included the original collage from The Beatles’ ‘White Album’.
For me, it was exciting to see his drawings for a project that never came to fruition: drawings for James Joyce’s Ulysses. This was a love affair with the great Joyce and Hamilton’s drawings of key elements of the novel, created over a 50 year period, are a joy and so was the visit to the Williamson.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4imgF1Y-P0k Tate Shots – Peter Saville on Richard Hamilton
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A8hcsvoKCQU Richard Hamilton at the ICA: Curator Tour