Two rooms house the exhibition at the Graves Gallery and are filled with art that does not follow any rules. Richard Hamilton himself often said “I do what I feel like”. During his 70-year career, he mixed high and low culture, merging fine art with advertising and challenging the tradition of art by focusing on everyday objects, to create Pop Art.
Pop Art is often associated with America and Andy Warhol, however many believe that its origins are actually in Britain with Hamilton as a founding father. In his early collages in the 1950’s, he used advertising images to ask the question, ‘what makes an image important?’ His focus on advertising is apparent when looking at Toaster (1967), where he tried to transform an everyday object into an object of desire. The mirrored surface in the print is reflecting our desire back at us.
The exhibition includes works from all stages of Hamilton’s career with diverse themes and innovative techniques. Hamilton constantly experiments with something new. Maybe that is why it is difficult to know where to start looking, it seems like there is no continuity in the pieces displayed, the themes are mismatched. The exhibition portrays the mind of the artist.
Also worthy of note are Hamilton’s illustration inspired by James Joyces’ Ulysses. Hamilton tries to imitate Joyce’s inventiveness in prose (for example the shifts from ordinary to elevated language within the book) in art as he represents different art eras in one print. The technique of etching in these prints, is also fascinating, all prints show unbelievable detail.
Perhaps the most iconic piece of the exhibition, Man, Machine and Motion is immediately visible and grand when entering the exhibition.The set of black and white photographs are installed on a metal structure. The original piece includes 176 printed photographs, and Museums Sheffield are exhibiting roughly 30 of those. However it still has significant impact and makes one wonder if there is a set order in which the photographs are meant to be installed or if it is up to the curator. The second idea is exciting because it would allow any museum to create their own original display.
Richard Hamilton also knew many famous people of his era and often created for them personally. For example the portrait of Francis Bacon, which is done to represent Bacon’s style. For fans of The Beatles, the White Album cover, designed by Hamilton, is displayed alongside Sgt Pepper’s Lonely-Hearts Club Band. Why such a simple design? What else could contrast the colourful mess of Sgt Pepper better than plain white? Very clever.
A final recommendation is do not be afraid to ask the Gallery Staff for additional information on any piece you’re interested in. Most of Hamilton’s art has an exciting background story which led to its creation. The staff are happy to talk about the exhibition and will offer a great insight and different perspectives.
It Moves Forward will be exhibited at the Graves Gallery until 26 October.
Featured Image: Richard Hamilton, Interior, 1964-1965: © R. Hamilton. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2019