Author: Imogen Aldridge

Artist feature: Richard Hamilton

Regarded as the father of Pop Art, few names are as significant as Richard Hamilton in the contemporary art world. Born in 1922, Hamilton’s career and life work has left a lasting legacy on art to this day. Here, we explore the career of Richard Hamilton, highlighting his broad influence on British and American art while examining (and admiring) some of his most famous works throughout the decades.

THE KING OF POP ART

While names like Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein come to mind at the mention of Pop Art, it was in fact Richard Hamilton in 1957 who first coined the term, describing his work as “Popular, transient, expendable, low-cost, mass-produced, young, witty, sexy, gimmicky, glamorous, and Big Business”. Incorporating concepts, imagery and influences from popular culture and modern day subjects, Hamilton’s art directly challenged the highbrow, often pretentious nature of the fine art movement that preceded and coexisted alongside him throughout his career. 

Hamilton’s highly creative approach to his work paved the way for pop artists of the future. Consistent throughout even his earliest works to his more modern pieces, he incorporated what are now recognised as the hallmarks of pop art. These include kitsch imagery inspired by popular culture and media, the use of photomontage and collage, as well as the clear references to pop culture and modern socio political subject matter - all of which were highly unusual at the time.

Considered transformative and influential, his explorative art style went on to inspire artists across the globe who, like Hamilton, chose to reject the confines of fine art to embrace the absurd. His bold, creative approach led to him drawing inspiration from the mundane and everyday aspects of life and culture, be it celebrities and figureheads, technological and scientific concepts, and even everyday objects, settings and scenarios that were otherwise fleeting and forgettable. 

Drawing plenty of inspiration from the glamour, excessiveness, and curiously different facets of American culture at the time, Hamilton’s art gave many new and aspiring artists - particularly those in Britain - the permission to do the same. To express their fascination, love, or even disdain of modern popular culture and the influence of the American dream on Britain in the 1950s onward.


MOST FAMOUS WORKS: RICHARD HAMILTON POP ART

Artist feature: Richard Hamilton | Image

Just what is it that makes today's homes so different, so appealing?  - 1956

This early collage by Hamilton has been described as ‘the first genuine work of pop art’, originally shown at London’s Whitechapel Gallery entitled This is Tomorrow. Created using cuttings from American print magazines, the piece features the classic facets of pop art including the religious figures of Adam and Eve juxtaposed against consumerist, post-war commodities. Offering up a criticism of America’s obsession with consumerism at the time, this early work demonstrated Hamilton’s rejection of traditional art and art training generally, paving the way for pop art works of the future.

 

Artist feature: Richard Hamilton | Image

Nearly a decade after his flagship pop art work, Hamilton’s style continued to thrive throughout his ever-growing body of work. By the 1960s, print and media advertising for fashion and commercial products were at an all-time high, largely relying on the female form and femininity to drive sales and public interest. Turning this concept on its head, this piece comedically criticises the hyper-masculine, with references to John F Kennedy’s ‘space race’ to the moon, Playboy Magazine, technology, and cowboys/westerns film culture. Incorporating abstract pop culture references and combining several mediums and a relatively abstract composition, this piece is yet another fine example of Richard Hamilton Pop Art.

 

Artist feature: Richard Hamilton | Image

My Marilyn - 1965

Coming only a couple of years after Andy Warhol’s now widely recognised screen print of Marilyn Monroe, Hamilton’s piece provides a stark contrast to the pop art image of Marilyn that the art world had come to know. 

Based on photographs that Marilyn herself rejected and defaced with marked Xs to indicate she was unhappy with the photos, Hamilton’s piece draws attention to the more vulnerable and fragile side of Monroe as a widely worshipped public figure and known sex symbol. Commenting on the work, Hamilton said, “​​the violent obliteration of her own image has a self-destructive implication that made her death all the more poignant”. Juxtaposed with the comedic and absurd nature of his wider body of work, this piece shows a darker, emotional side of Hamilton - with his wife dying in the same year as Marilyn Monroe, Hamilton’s use of ‘My’ gives the piece an autobiographical nature not seen in his typical pop art pieces.

 

Artist feature: Richard Hamilton | Image

Following on from (and paying homage to) his 1956 pop art work, Hamilton’s piece incorporates more modern mediums, including the use of computer generated art as well as subject matter and references to the socio political and cultural concerns of the late 1980s and early 1990s. While Hamilton produced several pop art pieces between the 50s and 90s, this piece in itself speaks to the fleeting and superficial nature of modern society and commercialism. Namely through his replacement of post-war imagery with that of personal computers, microwave meals, televisions, satellites, and the societal obsession with the ‘hard body’ popularised in the 80s and 90s.

DISCOVER RICHARD HAMILTON’S WORK AT ART REPUBLIC 

Here at Art Republic, we’re big admirers of Richard Hamilton and his body of work. His influence on pop art and the art world in general has paved the way for many famous and amateur artists to flourish and grow since his first piece was shown in the 1950s. Discover our small collection of Richard Hamilton prints or our full pop art prints collection today.

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