If you’re a fan of Pop Art or familiar with the art movement, then there’s a good chance you’ll have stumbled across the name Sir Peter Blake CBE. Born in the 1930s, educated at the Royal College of Art and rising to fame at the height of Pop Art in the late 1950s/early 1960s, his contribution to British art cannot be overstated.
While much of his work shines a spotlight on pop culture within the form of collage, Blake is also an accomplished painter, and is the man behind some of the most famous album artwork of the 20th century. Here, we’ll delve into the ground-breaking career and creativity of the man known by many in the art world as ‘The Father of British Pop Art’.
Though Blake’s name is all but synonymous with Pop Art, his earliest work is a world apart from the form and subject matter we’ve come to associate him with. After serving in the RAF (Royal Air Force), Peter Blake studied at the Royal College of Art, where he developed his skill of painting oil on canvas with a focus on the classical and nature. Slowly but surely, references to popular culture started to make its way into his creations, even before Pop Art became a phenomenon in the USA.
Upon graduating from RCA in 1956, Blake won the Leverhulme Research Award which he used to spend a year travelling across Europe. In that time, he visited France, Belgium, Netherlands, Spain and Italy, taking inspiration from the art he viewed at galleries across the continent. He also travelled with a circus in Italy and watched bullfights and wrestling matches in Spain – the latter featuring heavily in his later work.
When he returned to London after his travels, Blake started to create art that paid homage to popular adverts and household names in pop culture at the time. Among them were Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, and various pro wrestlers.
However, as a student of art, Blake’s work has always been informed and inspired by the work of other famous artists throughout history. In his own words, "You simply can't make art without having that history of art behind you and I think if you asked any artist they would always say they had learned from previous art. Perhaps I show that more than most in that I often appropriate art and quote from it." This rings especially true when looking at his later ruralist work, which often depicts both fantasy worlds and the Victorian era.
Throughout his career, Peter Blake has created many pieces that can be described as iconic. Though, perhaps his most famous is the cover for The Beatles’ eighth studio album, Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. This collage of over 70 famous figures, designed by Blake and his then wife Jann Haworth is arguably one of the most recognisable album covers of all time, while the album itself is known as a defining work of the psychedelic rock genre of the 1960s.
However, this wasn’t the only album cover that Peter Blake has designed. Later on in his career, Blake went on to make a sleeve for ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’ by Band Aid, Stop the Clocks by Oasis, Face Dances by The Who and even as recently as 2019 for their latest album, WHO.
While Sgt Pepper is undoubtedly Peter Blake’s best-known work, Peter Blake gained notoriety even before this piece with his 1955 painting On the Balcony. Though the composition of the piece is inspired by the collage art form, On the Balcony is a painting from start to finish, with references to fine art from earlier painters and pop culture references thrown in, including American cigarettes and a copy of Life magazine. Look closer and you’ll even see a photograph of Blake’s tutor, the English painter John Minton.
Throughout his career, Peter Blake painted a number of self-portraits, though his most famous is 1961’s Self-Portrait with Badges. Wearing double denim and a pair of Converse trainers, both heavily associated with American fashion, Peter Blake is a young man in this piece, with a clear fascination for the culture of the USA’s youth.
Many believe this portrait tells a story about ‘losers’ in American culture at the time. Among the array of badges pinned to Blake’s chest, we can see a Pepsi badge (America’s second favourite cola), another badge depicting presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson’s unsuccessful campaign, and both a badge and magazine depicting Elvis Presley, who was gaining popularity in the UK but experiencing a downturn in the US. Here, Blake used American pop culture references and effectively helped shape British pop art, distinctly different from the art across the Atlantic but drawing clear inspiration.
Fancy owning a print by one of the very few British painters to have received a knighthood? Well, you can. At Art Republic, we have a huge collection of Peter Blake prints to suit both your living space and taste. Whether you’re into Blake’s work inspired by pop culture, Victorian imagery or fantasy worlds, you’ll find plenty of amazing Peter Blake prints right here. These are a few of our favourites:
Marcel Duchamp’s World Tour is a ton of fun, and pays homage to one of Peter Blake’s inspirations, renowned French artist and writer Marcel Duchamp. One of a series imagining Duchamp attending a series of whimsical events in Blackpool, this print shows Duchamp as a guest at a reunion of DC Thomson’s best loved characters at the Blackpool Tower Ballroom. A real statement piece that would look the part in any room.
As the name suggests, Lord Mayor’s Show 800 Years was commissioned to celebrate 800 years of the Lord Mayor’s Show in London. Depicting the celebrations throughout the centuries, the piece uses images from existing art, photos, and newspapers to create a colourful, wacky collage that features everything from knights to clowns.
In this piece, Blake said, “Most things I do are full of stories, and this most particularly — there are all kinds of things going on. In the narrative of the parade things emerge, there are particular characters who are up to various antics. You find stories for yourself. I wanted to create a mix of the seriousness of it, but also the fun.”
The Dazzle Alphabet
When he studied Art at Gravesend Technical College between 1949 and 1951, Peter Blake developed a fascination with typography and the skill of hand lettering and typesetting. These works from 2017 are a throwback to his early inspiration, while the ‘dazzle effect’ was originally a method of camouflage in World War One to help ships avoid detection. We personally love the bold use of colouring in this T - The Dazzle Alphabet. How great would it be to have your initials decorating your home in the trademark style of The Father of British Pop Art?There you have it, a quick breakdown on the illustrious work of one of Great Britain’s best living artists. And don’t forget, you can explore a huge collection of Peter Blake prints spanning his entire career right here at Art Republic.