Richard William Hamilton (24 February 1922, London – 13 September 2011, London) was an English artist whose collage So What Makes Our Houses Today So Different, So Attractive? is considered the first Pop Art work.
He was born on February 24, 1922, in London. Studied at the St. Martin”s School of Art. From 1938 to 1946 he studied at the Royal Academy School. From 1948 to 1950 he studied at the Slade School of Art.
In 1959, Hamilton gave a talk titled “The Marvelous Color Cinema System, Spectacular Cinemascope and Stereophonic Sound,” titled a phrase from the 1957 musical Silk Stockings by Cole Porter. In this lecture, accompanied by pop music and a demonstration of early Polaroid cameras, Hamilton parsed film technology, explaining how it helped create the allure of Hollywood. Later, in the early 1960s, he developed this theme by creating a series of paintings inspired by stills from films and publicity shots.
The position at the ICA also provided Hamilton with the opportunity to pursue further research into Duchamp”s work, which resulted in the publication in 1960 of a typographical version of the Green Box collection of notes, which included Duchamp”s original notes for the design and construction of his famous work The Naked Bride and Her Bachelors, also known as The Big Glass. At the 1955 exhibition at the Hanover Gallery, all of Hamilton”s work was in one way or another a tribute to Duchamp. That same year, Hamilton organized the exhibition Man Machine Motion at the Hutton Gallery in Newcastle. Designed to look more like an advertising demonstration than a conventional art show, the show served as a prototype for Hamilton”s contribution to the exhibition “This is Tomorrowland” at the Whitechapel Gallery the following year. “So What Makes Our Houses Today So Different, So Attractive?” was created in 1956 for the “It”s Tomorrowland” catalog, in which it was reproduced in black and white and also used for posters for the exhibition. The collage depicts a muscular man provocatively holding Tootsie Pop and a woman with large, naked breasts wearing a lampshade hat, surrounded by symbols of 1950s abundance from a vacuum cleaner to a large can of canned ham. “So What Makes Our Houses Today So Different, So Attractive?” received wide acclaim as one of the first Pop Art works, and Hamilton”s written definition of what “pop” is laid the foundation for the entire movement. Hamilton”s definition of Pop Art from a letter to Alyson and Peter Smithson dated January 16, 1957: “Pop Art is: popular, transient, expendable, inexpensive, serial, young, witty, sexy, useless, glamorous, and Big Business.”
The success of This Is Tomorrow ensured a further appropriation of Hamilton”s studies, notably at the Royal College of Art from 1957 to 1961, where he promoted David Hockney and Peter Blake. During this period, Hamilton was also active in the campaign for nuclear disarmament, and produced work parodying then-Labor Party leader Hugh Gaitskell. In the early 1960s he received a grant from the Arts Council to research the position of Kurt Schwitters” Merzbau in Cumbria. The research eventually led to Hamilton organizing and protecting the work, and moving it to the Hutton Gallery at Newcastle University.
In 1962 his first wife Terry was killed in a car accident, and partly to recover from this, he traveled for the first time to the United States in 1963 for a retrospective of works by Marcel Duchamp at the Norton Simon Museum, where in addition to meeting with other artists, he was introduced to Duchamp himself. As a result, Hamilton became the curator of the first, and so far the only, retrospective of Duchamp”s work in Britain. His intimate familiarity with The Green Box allowed him to make copies of The Big Glass and other glass works too fragile to transport. The exhibition was shown at the Tate Gallery in 1966.
In 1968, Hamilton appeared in Brian De Palma”s film Greetings, where he portrays a pop artist showing an image of “Blow Up.” This film was the first X-rated film in the United States and Robert De Niro”s first film.
Beginning in the mid-1960s, Hamilton was introduced to Robert Frazier, and even produced a series of “Overwhelming London” prints based on Frazier and Mick Jagger”s arrest for drug possession. His connection to 1960s pop music continued when Hamilton met Paul McCartney, and produced the cover and poster design for the Beatles” White Album.
1970s to 2010s
In the 1970s, Richard Hamilton enjoys international recognition in a number of major exhibitions. He found a new companion in the artist Rita Donagh. Together they transformed North End, a farm in rural Oxfordshire, into a house and studio. “In 1970, fascinated by new technologies, Hamilton redirected advances in industrial design into fine art, with the support of Xartcollection of Zurich, a young company pioneering the production of multiple chains to bring art to a wide audience.” Hamilton undertook a number of projects that blurred the lines between art and industrial design, including paintings included in the design of radios and the Diab computer. In the 1980s, Hamilton again explored industrial design and designed two computer exteriors: a prototype Ohio computer (for the Swedish firm Isotron, 1984) and the DIAB DS-101 (for Dataindustrier A. B., 1986).
Since the late 1970s, Hamilton”s work has focused mainly on research into the process of making prints, often unusual and complex. In 1977-1978, Hamilton carried out a series of collaborations with the artist Dieter Roth.
In 1981 Hamilton, after watching a television documentary about a protest organized by IRA inmates at Long Cache prison, informally known as Mays (“The Maze”), began work on a trilogy of paintings based on conflicts in Northern Ireland. “Citizen” (1981-83), depicts IRA inmate Bobby Sands as Jesus, with long fluttering hair and a beard. “The Subject” (1988-1989) shows an Orangist, a member of a unit dedicated to preserving the Trade Union Movement in Northern Ireland. “The State” (1993) depicts a British soldier leading a solitary patrol in the street. “Citizen” was shown as part of a 1983 joint exhibition with Donagh, “The Cellular Labyrinth.”
Since the late 1940s Richard Hamilton had been engaged in a project to produce a set of illustrations for James Joyce”s novel Ulysses. In 2002, the British Museum held an exhibition of these illustrations entitled Imaging Ulysses. A book of Hamilton”s illustrations was published along with a text by Stephen Koppel. In the book, Hamilton explained that the idea for illustrating this complex, experimental novel came to him while he was serving in the Army in 1947. His first preliminary sketches were made while attending the Slade School of Art and were subsequently refined and refined over the course of 50 years. Later illustrations of Ulysses were exhibited at the Irish Museum of Modern Art (Dublin) and the Boijmans van Beuningen Museum (Rotterdam). The exhibition at the British Museum coincided with both the 80th anniversary of Joyce”s publication of the novel and the 80th birthday of Richard Hamilton. Hamilton passed away on September 13, 2011. A week before his death, work was underway to prepare a major exhibition of a retrospective of his work, and trips to four cities in Europe and the United States in 2013-2014 were planned.
Hamilton”s first exhibition of paintings was shown at the Hanover Gallery, London, in 1955. In 1993 Hamilton represented Britain at the Venice Biennale and was awarded the Golden Lion. Major retrospective exhibitions have been held at the Tate Gallery, London, 1970 and 1992, the Solomon Guggenheim Museum, New York, 1973, MACBA, Barcelona, the Ludwig Museum, Cologne, 2003, and the New National Gallery, Berlin, 1974. Some of the group exhibitions in which Hamilton has participated are Documenta 4, Kassel, 1968; the São Paulo Art Biennial, 1989; Documenta X, Kassel, 1997; the Gwangju Biennial, 2004; and the Shanghai Biennial, 2006. In 2010, the Serpentine Gallery presented Hamilton”s Contemporary Moral Issues, an exhibition focusing on his political and protest works that had been shown earlier in 2008 at Inverleith House at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh.