Richard Hamilton: The Big Daddy of Pop Painting
The British painter and collage artist Richard Hamilton (1922 – 2011) was interested in popular culture and contemporary issues, including current politics, interiors, architecture and design. He was inspired by everyday elements surrounding him; he challenged traditions and social norms, broke rules and regulations, and overcame obstacles that stood in his way. He ignored the boundaries between fine art and industrial design, disregarding artists’ snobbish attitude towards design, and stressed everyday common values.
Richard Hamilton was fascinated with modern technology and with mass-produced images. He had been exposed to this medium early on, as after finishing his art studies, he worked in the advertising department of a commercial studio. His sly, biting look at consumer advertising gave him the pioneering title Pop artist, or Father of Pop Art, and later, fondly named The Big Daddy of Pop Painting. There was a prevalent belief that Pop art was an American art movement because of products like Campbell’s soup cans and celebrities like Marilyn Monroe. But among the British, many consider that it started in England with Richard Hamilton.
The British roots of Pop art go back to the Independent Group (IG) that was founded in the early 1950s by Hamilton and a few artists, critics and architects, who were concerned with advertising and technology’s effect on modern art. The IG was studying the essence of consumer art, which Hamilton defined as “popular, transient, expendable, low-cost, massproduced, young, witty, sexy, gimmicky, glamorous and big business.” The IG played a decisive role in developing British Pop art.
Hamilton had an ambivalent feeling towards U.S. goods flooding the British market. On one level, they lured him, but he also showed concern about these glittering articles. Generally though, the novelties of modern culture excited the IG.
In 1956, the Independent Group set up in London an exhibition called “This Is Tomorrow” for which Hamilton made a collage, calling it Just What is it that Makes Today’s Homes so Different, So Appealing. It became his most famous work, referred to as the earliest Pop art work.
Inspired by printed advertising, this collage is considered a landmark in 20th Century British art, as it was prophetic; it had all the characteristics of Pop art that came later, such as consumer products, ads, pin-up girls and comic books. It was a parody of American advertising.
The poster is crowded with the latest American products, on one level playful, but also a worried, critical look on our age. Hamilton cut pictures from magazines and placed a nude woman lying seductively on a sofa, and a nude bodybuilder holding a huge lollipop on which is written in large letters the word POP. This word was not seen in art before, leading critics to say he branded the name for the movement. The living room, with objects and commercials of after-war American luxuries, was a typical image of the Pop Movement. A woman on the stairs using a vacuum cleaner, a tape recorder on the floor, a big ham can on the table and posters and comics strips on the walls, all consumer society portrayals.
In the 1960s Hamilton saw the work of Marcel Duchamp and admired his ready-made art, which directed his artistic course after the 60s. He described the found-objects art as “a search for what is epic in everyday objects and attitudes”. Duchamp’s influence is found in Hamilton’s installations, like the Braun electric toothbrush on top of which he placed a set of pink candy teeth, given to him by his son. Actually, Hamilton had a special admiration for the designs of Braun products, the most creative at the time.
Hamilton felt that since cars have transformed our lives so much, they should not be absent from our art. The result was Hommage A Chrysler Corp. where the beautiful curved bumper and headlights are implicitly compared to a female body.
He combined Pop art with classical painting, as in Interior, where his
commercial symbols and implications are executed in a classical style. On this subject, he wrote: “I have always been an old-style artist.” Yet, sometimes his Pop style surpassed old traditions.
Swingeing London is a series of paintings taken in 1967 from newspaper photographs that show Mick Jagger (the Rolling Stones lead singer) with Robert Fraser, the group’s agent, handcuffed together in a police car, after their drug arrest. The title of the canvas is sheer irony. Lobby is derived from a postcard of a Berlin hotel entrance, with excessive tidiness and absence of human presence: a dream place or a nightmare?
In the 1980s, Hamilton began creating computer-generated work, and although receptive to his time, he still believed that in art, painting would always be more important than technology.
In its obituary of Richard Hamilton, the Guardian newspaper described him as “passionately responsive to his own time”. He gave current events ‘epic’ importance.
Hommage à Chrysler Corp - 1957
Trafalgar Square - 1965-7
Lobby - 1985-7
Soft Blue Landscape - 1976 - 80
Swingeing London 67 (f) - 1968-9
Just what is it that makes today's home so different, so appealing - 1991