Glorious Techniculture

Tate Modern's Richard Hamilton show captures the father of British Pop Art in all his splendor

Paul Levy

EVEN IF YOU'VE never heard of Richard Hamilton (1922-2011), you probably remember several of his images—such as that of Mick Jagger and art dealer Robert Fraser handcuffed together in a police car ("Swingeing London 67") or the muscleman holding the phallic lollipop in a room loaded with American consumer goods ("Just what is it that makes today's homes so different, so appealing?" from 1956). 
Hamilton was called "the father of British Pop Art," with some justification, as he transcended the usual category divisions of artistic practice, incorporating popular imagery, making installations, using Polaroid photography and, near the end of his long life, becoming a digital wizard.

Tate Modern's enormous retrospective comes close to doing justice to this polymath innovator who worked with Marcel Duchamp to reconstruct his "Large Glass," taught Brian Ferry and others from Roxy Music, adored well-designed objects such as the 1967 Braun toaster, and later made deeply political works concerning the Kent State shootings, the IRA "dirty protests" and passionate depictions of Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair. 
The only aspects a little slighted by this wonderful show are Hamilton's interest in food (he pretty much discovered Ferran Adrià when the chef ran a beach cafe near the artist's Spanish house) and the fact that he was an elegant, fluent writer of English prose. 
Curators Mark Godfrey and Hannah Dewar have reconstructed Hamilton's very first installation, "Growth and Form" (1951), and the exciting 1956 "This is Tomorrow," with its working jukebox, movie-poster and art-historical motifs. Another pair of his installations has been remade at the Institute of Contemporary Arts to coincide with this show. 
The room detailing his association with Duchamp shows Hamilton's remarkable mastery of the craft and engineering aspects of creating art. They became friends in the '60s, when a Duchamp retrospective was planned, and Hamilton, knowing that Duchamp's most important work, "The Large Glass" (1915-23), was too fragile to travel, devoted himself to remaking it so carefully that Duchamp signed the piece. Most fans of Duchamp (and most curators) interest themselves in Duchamp's ready-mades, the urinals and bottle racks. By doing this instead, Hamilton showed his sympathy and understanding of the hard core of Duchamp's artistry. 
'Lobby' 1985-87 The estate of Richard Hamilton 
For Hamilton, too, as this exhibition repeatedly demonstrates, making art was also an intellectual process, and he was a serious, even visionary thinker. (I should disclose that we were friends.) This fine show, planned before the artist's death, can only consolidate his high stature.

Art for the Pop of It: Artists Re-create, Subvert American Pop Culture

Art for the Pop of It: Artists Re-create, Subvert American Pop Culture: John Thomason To reference an idiom often attributed to Sigmund Freud, sometimes a hot dog is just a hot dog. Other times, it’s much mo...

Artists Re-create, Subvert American Pop Culture

John Thomason

To reference an idiom often attributed to Sigmund Freud, sometimes a hot dog is just a hot dog. Other times, it’s much more, as in the two fine-art hot dogs displayed (one of them under glass) in the Boca Museum of Art’s rollicking new show “Pop Culture: Selections From the Frederick R. Weisman Art Foundation.” Jean Wells’ “Hot Dog” mosaic is made from shards of cut glass, the colors of gold and ruby, fashioned into a frankfurter fit for a queen. Betty Spindler’s “Pink Hot Dog” is no less haute, a foodstuff of questionable edibility elevated to a ludicrously ornamental ceramic artifact.
These artists intend to draw attention to the objects that drive our shallow consumerist economy, satirizing them through an ironic sort of glorification: If it’s what people want, we’ll rub their faces in it. One person’s chintzy diet is another artist’s pointed subject matter.
This was always a rebellious undercurrent of the Pop Art movement, which thrived in the 1960s, in part, as a reaction to the perceived pretentions of abstract expressionism. Rather than conceal their messages in frenetic splatters of paint or monochromatic slates, Pop artists made the act of representation their very subject—a comic book panel or a Campbell’s Soup can, freed from their original marketplace shackles and exalted as museum-quality art. Modifications to these objects needn’t necessarily be made: The pieces made their points about American values simply by existing.

Some of these artists’ names and their key works have become just as ubiquitous as their subject matter, and many of them—Warhol, Lichtenstein, Rosenquist and Haring—are duly represented in “Pop Culture,” a comprehensive and personally curated survey of Pop Art from its American genesis through to the present day, where it has become a global phenomenon. And while it’s always great to see these familiar masters on museum walls, I was most taken with the artists still carrying the Pop torch decades after its fashionability declined.
Some, like Greg Miller and his “7-Up” collage, seem like direct descendants of the original Pop Artists, creating work that hearkens less to 2014 than to 1964. But others seem more forthright in their subversion: Andrew Lewicki’s “Oreo Manhole Cover,” positioned on the floor, playfully points out the aesthetic similarities between the sandwich cookie design and street manhole covers, while subtly suggesting that the unhealthy snacks belong in our sewage system, not our bellies. Likewise, Blake Boyd’s “Super Girl 2” reinterprets the image of the buxom comic-book superhero for a post-feminist America. And speaking of gender, wait until you see how the artist LA II reflects on biker machismo with his fluorescent, hot-pink motorcycle.
In other places, American pop culture invades the art of other nations, mirroring the rise of globalization. In Dong-hyun Son’s “Two Birds,” Daffy Duck appears on what looks to be an ancient Korean scroll, and in a pair of superb works by Masami Teraoka—one a silkscreen, the other a watercolor—McDonalds and Baskin Robbins infects the muted beauty of traditional Asian art, a pair of chopsticks sitting ridiculously next to a cheeseburger.
Elsewhere, we get biting commentary on such subjects as corporate uniformity—Michael Speaker’s stunning wood sculpture “Team Xerox” depicts a man sticking his head in a copy machine, with identical wooden heads resting on its trays—and the ultimate Pop distraction, television: The robotic concoction in Nam June Paik’s “Michelin Man Laser Robot” is festooned with a handful of TV screens, which are transfixing despite the fact that they’re only broadcasting the same abstract transmission. Yet we can’t stop looking.
But look onward. This is the kind of exhibition that rewards the sustained gaze, and sometimes double takes are required. Some of the best pieces in “Pop Culture” trick the eye, suggesting one thing while actually being another. Wayne White’s “Cornmeal Sweat Gasoline Pork Grease Burlap Motor Oil” (pictured above) is a bronze “word sculpture” that looks remarkably like a cardboard construction, a pair of brown packing boxes from which the titular words spring from the top, as in a pop-up book. Keung Szeto’s “Art Work” painting simulates a corkboard so vividly you’ll want to try and remove one of its thumbtacks. And Richard Sigmund’s “Stop” uses splattered acrylic to create a large-scale replica of a concrete street.
An exhibition like this can seem overwhelming; it takes up three rooms in the museum and covers so much territory and so many artists that it can feel like several exhibitions crammed into one—a testament to the eclectic nature of Weisman’s collection.
Luckily, the Boca Museum’s curatorial team did a bang-up job of presenting these works with thematic cohesion. Roughly speaking, urban visions give way to comic book revisionism, words and language, food, sexuality, the human anatomy, and finally fashion. If that’s not all of human experience, it’s certainly a good chunk of it contained in one sprawling show.
I’d like to close by going back to the food art, because it’s the most impactful portion of the show. The modern-day apotheosis of Pop Art may be Pamela Michelle Johnson’s “American Still Life” series of giant paintings of piles upon piles of junk food. Three of them—Pop-Tarts, Hostess cupcakes and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches—are presented here, and under Johnson’s brush, this in-your-face comfort food looks utterly disgusting. If nothing else, this exhibition will surely make you rethink a Twinkie for an apple next time you’re in Publix.

"Pop Culture" is at the Boca Museum of Art, 501 Plaza Real, through April 23. Tickets cost $6 to $14. For information, call 561/392-2500 or visit

Richard Hamilton: The prophet of Pop Art

On the eve of a major career retrospective at Tate Modern,  Richard Cork recalls his meetings with the visionary artist

Richard Cork
Pop Art didn’t exist when Richard Hamilton helped to organise the epoch-making London exhibition This Is Tomorrow, held at the Whitechapel Art Gallery in 1956. But his section of the show was daring enough to celebrate images culled from advertising, comic books and film publicity. It outraged conservative English opinion at the time, and Hamilton also made a brilliantly witty, provocative collage called Just what is it that makes today’s homes so different, so appealing?

Here, in a room containing a blown-up cover of Young Romance and an immense tin of ham on the coffee-table, a muscle-bound Mr Universe flaunts his physique and clasps a shamelessly phallic tennis racket. It thrusts out of his groin like a giant lollipop, and the words “Tootsie POP” are splashed across its orange wrapping paper.
Looking at this collage now, we immediately link Hamilton with the brash images produced in New York by Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol. But they did not begin their Pop work until the 1960s. Hamilton was a prophet, and his innovative collage now looks like a clarion call for the army of Pop artists who would take the Sixties by storm. His prodigious career is about to be celebrated in a major retrospective show at Tate Modern, which opens this week. But back in 1956 he was struggling to make a living. I was lucky enough to interview Hamilton on several occasions and once asked him how he had felt then, as a 34-year-old artist in London. “I felt completely out on a limb”, he told me. “I thought that I was being tremendously adventurous and alone, going out into the sea with absolutely nothing in front of me.”
 At this difficult stage in his career, Hamilton benefited from belonging to the Independent Group, a “small, cohesive, quarrelsome, abrasive” assembly of angry young artists, critics and theorists who met regularly at the ICA in London. He felt stimulated by the intense, questioning attitude which gave these meetings their extraordinary vitality. For Hamilton had always been a rebel, right back to his time studying at the Royal Academy Schools. His experiences there ended in an explosive rumpus, and he relished telling me about it many years later.
Hamilton first entered the RA Schools in 1938, when he was only 16. At first the precocious teenager did well, but the Schools were closed during the Second World War. Hamilton recalled that “I had to go to the Labour Exchange, and they said: ‘What have you been doing? Can you use a pencil? We’ll make you an engineering draughtsman.’” So Hamilton received training and worked for a few dull years in an armaments factory. When the war ended, he returned with immense relief to the RA Schools. But the reactionary teachers hated Hamilton’s fascination with Modernism. 
“Alfred Munnings had become the President, and he used to appear after riding in Rotten Row”, Hamilton told me. “Dressed in a rakish hat and boots, with a riding crop in his hand, he would shout: ‘Are you one of those bastards who talks about Picasso?’ Munnings was frightening, and my teacher Thomas Monnington also got angry when he saw my Cézanne-influenced life drawings. He said: ‘Augustus John knocks spots off Cézanne!’ I roared with laughter – it was hysterically funny. But Monnington was not amused.”
Hamilton refused to change his ideas about art. “By that time I wasn’t a kid any more, and this was all a bit silly. Sir Walter Russell, the Keeper of the RA Schools, was still kind to me, but he called me in and said: ‘The President has been told that you are not profiting from your studentship. Therefore it is terminated.’ I was expelled.” At the age of 24, the would-be artist now found himself “dragged screaming into the bloody Army for a year-and-a-half’s national service with the Royal Engineers”.
Hence Hamilton’s eagerness to be defiantly innovative when he resumed his own creative work in the 1950s. But even after the exposure afforded him by This Is Tomorrow, he “tried for eight years to persuade dealers around London to give me an opportunity to show.” Then, quite suddenly, he said, “I learned about the existence of Peter Blake, Allen Jones and David Hockney”. They were still students at the Royal College of Art, but Pop Art now created enough excitement to earn them a show in London. Even though Hamilton was over a decade older than most of them, he felt “very pleased that I was invited to contribute” to this exhibition. “I was carried along on David Hockney’s golden coat-tails. He wafted in, and I was somehow given a little reflected shine from this gold suit that he wore on special occasions.”
During the 1960s, Hamilton revealed just how impressive and experimental he really was. References to the cinema abound in his work from this period, but its tone ranges from the brashly satirical to the profoundly mournful. The leader of the Labour Party is transformed into a bug-eyed maniac in Portrait of Hugh Gaitskell as a Famous Monster of Filmland. But in the same year, 1964, Hamilton explored his preoccupation with death by producing the sinister Interior II, based on a murderous moment in the 1949 thriller Shockproof. Then, a few years later, he seized on a press photograph of a contemporary event: Mick Jagger’s notorious arrest on a drugs charge alongside the art dealer Robert Fraser. Handcuffed together in a police van, the two men raise their hands in an ambiguous gesture – half demonstrating their plight, half shielding themselves from intrusive cameras. And Hamilton chose a typically sardonic title for his picture: Swingeing London 67.
As he grew older, harrowing themes dominated his work. The tragedy of Northern Ireland haunted him, especially when he saw a TV news film of the so-called Dirty Protest at The Maze prison near Belfast. In The Citizen, he showed the Christ-like figure of a bearded protester who wore blankets and smeared the walls of his cell with excrement. Hamilton was also profoundly moved by the fatal shooting of four students by National Guardsmen at Kent State University, Ohio, during a campus demo in 1970. “It’s a demonstration of the stupidity of mankind”, Hamilton told me in 2010, his voice still expressing the deep emotion which had led him to make such a powerful work from the event.
By then he was approaching 90, but still completely dedicated to producing art at the Oxfordshire farmhouse where he lived with his wife and fellow-artist Rita Donagh. “I have a very fine lamp hanging over my easel”, he said. “Rita gets fed up with me if I’m not ready for my gin and tonic by half-eight or nine. But it’s necessary to work a lot, in spite of the pain from my arthritis. I’m getting on, and I don’t recommend it!” He died in September 2011, and only now will the Tate Modern exhibition, along with related shows at the ICA and the Alan Cristea Gallery, reveal the full extent of his multi-faceted achievements.
Tate Modern’s Richard Hamilton retrospective runs from Thursday to 26 May

Pop artist who was famous long before the Beatles

THINK of Pop Art and you will probably call to mind Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s soup tins, writes Lesley Potter. But the movement — which celebrated the explosion of newfound freedom and commercialism of the Sixties — included a great number of artists.

One of the British contingent, dubbed the “forgotten king of British Pop Art” is Joe Tilson, and an exhibition of his work is opening at the Bohun Gallery in Henley this weekend.

Tilson was in fact one of the founding figures of the genre in the early Sixties and he was famous long before the Beatles and David Hockney.

Born in 1928, he served in the Royal Air Force and afterwards studied at St Martin’s School of Art and then at the Royal College of Art. He had barely finished his studies before being awarded the much-coveted Rome Prize, which took him to live in Italy where the octogenarian continues to live and work today. He is a Royal Academician and his artistic career was celebrated at the Royal Academy in a retrospective exhibition in 2002.

A lifelong dedicated printmaker, Tilson has gained a reputation as one of Britain’s foremost artists producing prints, multiples, constructions, paintings and reliefs. Many of his prints are largely hand-painted and his “paintings” are based on print-making techniques.

His early work embraced the hedonism and optimism of the Sixties. In the Seventies, after his move to Italy, his work began to reflect on the five elements and Greek and Roman mythology. Italy remains a strong focus in his work and some of his most recent imagery is inspired by the churches of Venice.

All periods of the artist’s career will be represented in this solo show at Bohun Gallery, with a wide selection of prints, multiples and constructions. The show opens tomorrow (Saturday) and runs until