Richard Hamilton b.London 1922 - 2011 Oxfordshire
A founder member of the Independent Group, his collage Just what is it that makes today’s homes so different, so appealing? made for reproduction as a poster and catalogue illustration for the exhibition This is Tomorrow in 1956, and not an art work in itself, has now become regarded as a seminal Pop Art work as it neatly sums up in visual terms most of the themes that were to become stock in trade for the movement.
Richard Hamilton first took art classes at the age of twelve. He left school when he was fourteen and during the following year worked at the Reimann School and Studios which pioneered Bauhaus principles of commercial design in Britain. In 1938 he enrolled as a full time student of painting at the Royal Academy Schools and also attended evening classes in printmaking at the Central School of Art.
During the Academy Schools wartime closure Hamilton trained as an engineering draughtsman designing jigs and tools for electrical components. On his return after the war he was expelled for “not profiting from the instruction”. This loss of student status meant that he was enlisted into the army for eighteen months National Service. During this time he availed himself of the regimental library reading all the classics of English literature and his own paperback of James Joyce’s Ulysses. Illustrating this novel was to occupy him until the 1990s.
In 1948 after briefly taking a course in fashion illustration ran by Vogue magazine, he resumed his fine art education at the Slade. Among his fellow students were Nigel Henderson, William Turnbull and Eduardo Paolozzi; an embryonic Independent Group. It was Henderson who introduced him to the work of Marcel Duchamp and the writings of D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson whose book On Growth and Form argues that science over emphasises evolution at the expense of mechanics and physical laws, a theory that influenced an exhibition designed by Hamilton as the Institute of Contemporary Art’s contribution to the Festival of Britain in 1951.
Inaugurated in 1952, the Independent Group was a coterie within the ICA, basically a private talking shop for younger like-minded artists, writers and architects where varied topics such technology, science and popular culture were debated. During same year Richard Hamilton returned to the Central, this time to teach design and in 1953 he was appointed lecturer in fine art at Kings College, Durham University, a post that he was to hold until 1966.
The Independent Group’s most public achievements were it’s exhibitions which included Parallel of Life and Art in 1953, Man, Machine and Motion in 1955 featuring enlarged photographs and diagrams illustrating movement, a theme that Hamilton was concurrently exploring in his paintings, culminating in This is Tomorrow in 1956. More like advertising displays than conventional art shows they secured him yet another teaching post, this time at the Royal College of Art lecturing in interior design.
The title of his first Pop painting Hommage a Chrysler Corp. suggests that Richard Hamilton is aligning himself with the tradition of European art, yet both this and Her’s is a Lush Situation, a line from a car ad, are eulogies to the American automobile industry. $he, the ad man’s ideal consumer, and Pin-up with it’s collaged bra are also executed in the same, slow, considered painterly way.
His subject matter is drawn from advertising and inspired by modern industrial design. Such is his technical know how that in 1974 he was invited by the Lux Corporation of Japan to design a hi-fi system for their 50th anniversary and in 1984 the OHIO computer for the Swedish firm Isoton.
In his editioned work, which often supplements his paintings, he has used every medium from traditional etching through to computer generation.
Richard Hamilton’s work transcends the WHAAM! bam thank you ma’am mannerisms generally associated with much Pop Art insofar that it demands in-depth analysis. Yet for all its thoughtfulness it still maintains its wit.