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Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Richard Hamilton

Richard Hamilton, Self-portrait, 1967

"Pop Art is: popular, transient, expendable, low-cost, mass-produced, young, witty, sexy, gimmicky, glamorous, and Big Business."
 Richard Hamilton, 1957

Before you can invent something, you first have to define that something. At a time when Abstract Expressionism was still reigning eternal, the English collage artist, Richard Hamilton, was exploring, defining, and in a Picasso-istic sense, "inventing" the next big thing in art nearly ten years before his "something" became that "next big thing." Richard Hamilton invented Pop Art.

Just what is it that makes today's homes so different, so appealing?
1956, Richard Hamilton
This may come as something of a shock to American exceptionalists who thought Pop was purely "Made in the USA," the product of the migrating mind of Andy Warhol, or Ben Day dotter, Roy Lichtenstein, dating from the early 1960s. Hamilton's Just what is it that makes today's homes so different, so appealing? (above) dates from 1956; and if further proof is needed of such early authenticity, the collaged image even includes the word "POP" emblazed on his bodybuilder's strategically placed Tootsie Pop "sucker." Pop Art, even then, was not known for its subtlety. But true to Hamilton's definition, it was "witty, sexy, [and] gimmicky."

I Was a Rich Man's Plaything,
1947, Eduardo Paolozzi
Actually, British purists might claim such art, culled from publications of lower class popular culture, goes back as much as a decade earlier. Scottish-born artist and sculptor, Eduardo Paolozzi's 1947 collage titled, I Was a Rich Man's Plaything (left) is somewhat stiff, orderly, and unimaginative, but like Hamilton's early manifestation, Paolozzi's image also contains the word "POP" (tucked just below the word "Confessions"). And as if that weren't enough, the small, corner ad for Coca-Cola (pop) serves to underline his designation. The work was first displayed in London in 1952. Hamilton freely admits having been influenced by Paolozzi, as well as by Paolozzi's friend and major influence, Marcel Duchamp.

Richard Hamilton was born in 1922. He didn't just define and invent Pop, he went on, during the ensuing years, to become the British embodiment of such art even as late-coming Americans claimed it as their own. American Pop artists made their work light, airy, pretty, and enjoyable, at least for those broadminded enough to set aside preconceptions as to the definition of art. Hamilton's Pop Art took a more intellectual course, embracing a more serious social relevance, promoting nuclear disarmament, anti-war sentiments, and other radical leftist causes. His friendship with British pop groups from the 1960s included Mick Jagger and Paul McCartney, led to an iconic status in Britain matched only by Warhol in the U.S. Hamilton was responsible for the cover design (if you can call it that) of the Beatle's so-called "White Album." In 1968, Hamilton came to the U.S. where he was featured as the quintessential Pop artist in an early Brian de Palma film titled Greetings (which incidentally was Robert de Niro's first motion picture). The film was also the first movie to ever receive an "X" rating (later reduced to "R") by the then newly-formed Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA).

Just What Is It That Makes Today's Homes So Different, 1992, Richard Hamilton
Hamilton's 1992 updated Just What Is It That Makes Today's Homes So Different? (above) is based upon his breakthrough Pop image from 1957. It is a more illustrative collage, but nonetheless hammers away at the same affluent necessities and attitudes as the original. The bodybuilder in the updated rendition is female. Maintaining the same theme, yet once more "refreshing" it, Hamilton produced Hotel du Rhone (below) in 2005. He died in 2011 at the age of 89.

Hotel du Rhone, 2005, Richard Hamilton.
Old art movements never die, they just get "refreshed."


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