Chiara and chair is a print created by photography, graphics and digital collage in a complex sequence of actions. It depicts a naked young woman holding a vacuum cleaner in an anonymous interior next to two armchairs and several small tables. Many of the features of this space appear as perspective lines that all tend towards a vanishing point – delineated as a fuzzy black blob – on the left side of the image. A painting of a hotel lobby hangs above the armchairs and constitutes the image’s focal point.
Chiara and chair came about as a result of an invitation Hamilton received in 2000 from the art historian Roger Bevan to contribute to an exhibition in the Hotel du Rhône, Geneva. Hamilton decided to hang a painting he had made from a postcard of a hotel lobby in Berlin entitled Lobby, 1985-7, in the hotel’s lobby. During the exhibition he photographed the installation of his work in the Hotel du Rhône and it is from one of these photographs, scanned onto his computer, that he created Chiara and chair. After improving the uneven colour tones of his photograph, Hamilton overlaid a perspective diagram on the image to adjust distortions from the camera lens. He shifted the furniture a little and substituted a scanned transparency of the original painting for the image of the painting in his original photograph. Since this is viewed at an angle, the scan had to be pulled into perspective, resulting in the introduction of more lines. As he worked on the image these graphic elements became an essential part of the picture, and many areas of the original photograph evaporated. He then photographed a friend named Chiara standing naked with the vacuum cleaner at his home in Northend, Oxfordshire, before collaging her into the image.
The representation of interior spaces has been a recurring motif in Hamilton’s work since the late 1950s. The treatment of perspectival space is a central concern in all his interiors; in Chiara and chair it is made overtly the subject. Working from left to right across the print, the imagery moves from an abstract language of diagrams and signs into a photographic depiction of an actual three-dimensional scene, playing on levels of representation throughout, with the Lobby painting at the conceptual core. The word ‘chair’ written in a gothic script hovers next to a diagram of a chair that faces a photographic representation of the same chair across a coffee table, as though it is waiting to be coloured in. A large bouquet of flowers in a vase on the far right of the print echoes a vase of flowers depicted in the foreground of the Lobby painting. Hamilton’s use of the techniques of masking, cutting and pasting on the computer cause the bouquet in the real room to appear less three-dimensional than the vase in the scanned transparency of the painting. The complex composition of Hamilton’s Lobby painting creates another space within the space, offsetting the vanishing point on the opposite side of the image. This point is annotated with the infinity symbol directly above it, the letters ‘bh’ on the right and their mirror image on the left, either side of a vertical axis that is bisected by the horizon line, also running through the vanishing point or ‘black hole’. The artist has explained:
My main vanishing point ... became a very important reference and ... I painted a large black spot. That point of convergence took on a new significance when I began to think of it not as a place where things disappear but as a pinpoint from which all the visual elements emerge ... the vanishing point might be the other side of a black hole, a point in space into which things are drawn and disappear into nothingness. Black holes are totally negative and compress matter into unimaginable density; now, however, we are led to believe that the black hole might be a way into another dimensionality or several dimensionalities. If my image is coming out of a black hole then it must be emerging from a positive side of the hole BH+. The scene into which the matter is stuffed is being rebuilt before our eyes; maybe it isn’t fully formed until it reaches the place it must lock into. Perhaps the instruction book sends out a partly formed outline of a chair or even just the word ‘Chair’. It may be confused because the word ‘chair’ is very like the name of the girl, Chiara.
(Quoted in Painting by Numbers, p.40.)
Hamilton’s play on the mirroring resemblance between the words ‘Chiara’ and ‘chair’ and his emphasis of the dual possibilities of the black hole – as both a vanishing point or an entry into another dimension – recalls his earlier print, A mirrorical return, 1998 (Tate P78289). The title of this work alludes to a late print by Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968), An Original Revolutionary Faucet: Mirrorical Return, 1964, comprising a line-drawing of that artist’s most famous ready-made, Fountain, 1917 (Tate T07573). Mirror reflections – doubling around an axis of glass – provide a way of thinking about the mathematical concept of the fourth dimension which is central to Duchamp’s conception of his first major work, The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even, 1913-23 (T02011), known as the Large Glass because it is a painting on glass. In Duchamp’s complex system, the male and female elements represented by the distinctly separate lower and upper panels of the Large Glass may join only in the fourth dimension, in other words through rotation around an axis that transports them beyond the two-dimensional plane of the painted surface and the three dimensional solidity of the object. In A mirrorical return Hamilton used digital technology to insert a female nude into the male section of the Large Glass hanging on a passage wall – creating a place that is beyond the logic of three-dimensional space in his image. In Chiara and chair he uses perspective drawing and the notion of the black hole to suggest the existence of a dimension beyond the three that we know.
Hamilton created Chiara and chair on a Macintosh G5 using Adobe InDesign, Photoshop and Illustrated. It was printed on an Epson Stylus Pro 9600 printer using Epson UltraChrome seven colour lightfast pigment inks on Somerset paper by Ian Cartwright at ThePrintRoom, London and proofed by the artist. Tate’s copy is the sixth in the edition of sixty, plus six artist’s proofs, distributed by Alan Cristea Gallery, London.
Richard Hamilton: Painting by Numbers, exhibition catalogue, Alan Cristea Gallery, London 2006, pp.39-47, reproduced pp.46-7 in colour.
Richard Hamilton: Retrospective: Paintings and Drawings 1937 to 2002, exhibition catalogue, MACBA, Barcelona and Ludwig Museum, Cologne 2003, pp.83 and 85.