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Richard Hamilton Obituary

  • 2 min read

Pioneer of British Pop Art Richard Hamilton has died aged 89 following a short illness.

He was working on a major retrospective due to be seen in London, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Madrid next year just days before he died.

His 1956 collage titled ‘Just What Is It that Makes Today's Homes So Different, So Appealing?’ was considered one of the early works of Pop Art. In 1957 he also wrote a letter describing what he thought Pop Art was "Pop Art is: popular, transient, expendable, low-cost, mass-produced, young, witty, sexy, gimmicky, glamorous, and Big Business" - stressing its everyday, commonplace values.

Hamilton's second great influence on the art of today was his championing of the work of Marcel Duchamp at a time when his subversive Dada art was largely forgotten. One of Hamilton's masterpieces is his replica of Duchamp's Large Glass, which can now be seen in Tate Modern. He also developed a lasting friendship with Duchamp and had many replicas of the artist work he had created with Duchamp’s permission decorating his home.

The 1945 show of wartime Picasso and Matisse paintings at the V&A in London Ied Hamilton back to studying art after a period working as a draftsman. So In 1946 he went back to his studies in the Royal Academy only to be thrown out for not bowing to RA priorities. He then continued his studies at the Slade School of Art until 1951.

After graduation Hamilton was a member of the Independent Group, formed in the 1950s by a group of artists and writers at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, whose symposiums contributed to the development of Pop art in Britain.

They put together the This Is Tomorrow exhibition in London, at the Whitechapel Gallery which really put Richard Hamilton and Pop Art on the map. This led him into to teaching at the Royal College of Art (1957-61) where he taught and promoted David Hockney and Peter Blake.

In the 1960’s he produced a series of works called Swingeing London based on the arrest of Robert Fraser (his art dealer at the time), and Mick Jagger, for possession of drugs. He also designed the cover for the Beatles White album. He said it was a response to Peter Blake’s cover for Sgt Peppers that was so full of people. It was the only Beatles album cover not to feature the 4 bad members.

Throughout the 1970’s, 80’s and 90’s he continued to produce works often tacking political issues and using the latest computer generated imagery. He was very active in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and created a piece about Hugh Gaitskell the Labour leader who refused to back a policy of nuclear disarmament. He also made works about the Troubles in Ireland and the Iraq wars including his 1990’s image of Tony Blair as a cowboy.

Richard Hamilton was also a prolific and groundbreaking printmaker. Since making his first print in 1939, his graphic work has consistently pushed the boundaries of how prints and multiples are made.

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