On Tuesday 13 September 2011, one of the most significant and influential artists of modern times passed away, aged 89. Richard Hamilton holds a strong claim as the progenitor of pop art. His 1956 collage Just What Is It That Makes Today’s Homes So Different, So Appealing? is one of the earliest works we can consider as pop art. As soon as he put a lolly with “POP” in the hand of a bodybuilder, he shaped a genre. The two protagonists were almost naked, surrounded by modern gadgets and media in 1950s Britain. The work is ironic, yet the title of the work suggests a certain amount of awe and admiration for the materialistic world of the post-war West.
Pop art was a reaction to the post World War II movement abstract expressionism – highly idiosyncratic and often heterodox pieces from the likes of Pollock, Gorky and Kotin.
Pop art reacted against and simultaneously expanded upon abstract expressionism and is closely linked to Dadaism. Along with Warhol and Lichtenstein, Richard Hamilton’s art helped to pioneer a movement.
Hamilton designed the cover for The Beatles’ White album in 1968; he created the anti-establishment work Shock and Awe – Tony Blair as a cowboy, with holsters and guns, a reaction to how the former Prime Minister handled the Iraq war. His work always contained political undertones – his portraits of the prison protestors in Northern Ireland and the conflicts in Palestine, for instance.
Many of Hamilton’s works will soon be on display in the Tate as a tribute to one of Britain’s most important modern artists.
by Rachel Preece