Illustrated companion

This is one of a group of early Pop paintings by Hamilton which reflect his interest in consumer goods and their advertising, and in the role of these in society. These works also reveal Hamilton's equal interest in presenting subject matter in ways which are abstract and allusive rather than directly representational, creating elaborate and subtle compositions which reflect the complexity of his responses to his sources. The theme of '$he' is the presentation of women in advertising; Hamilton's possible alternative title for this work was 'Women in the Home'. The form of the title which he finally chose, with the 'S' as a dollar sign is a characteristically witty and economical reference to the glamour of American consumerism. Hamilton himself described the painting as 'a sieved reflection of the ad man's paraphrase of the consumer's dream'. This was in a lengthy account of the work published in Architectural Design in October 1962. From this we know that the overall source of the work was an advertisement for an R.C.A. Whirlpool fridge/freezer. Hamilton was particularly attracted by its 'cadillac pink' colour and by the composition of the photograph, 'a brilliant high shot of the cornucopic refrigerator'. This comment reveals, incidentally, the serious critical interest taken by Pop artists in the creative qualities of commercial art. In the painting the fridge is evoked through a glimpse of its door viewed in steep perspective and part of the freezer compartment inside. The woman standing proudly beside it is represented by one eye (near the top edge of the painting) and her bare right shoulder and upper left breast. Below is a curved form representing her hips. Below that is a combined toaster and vacuum cleaner. These things are represented in a wide range of ways chosen by Hamilton for their appropriateness to the source, and sometimes because they offer opportunities for wit or allusion. The woman's flesh is painted with an airbrush to give the effect of a glossy magazine photograph and the silver toaster is also airbrushed to a smooth metallic finish echoing the original. The hips of the woman are in low relief to suggest the idea of tactile three-dimensionality. Her eye is a joke one in plastic; it winks. The bottle of Pepsi-Cola in the door of the fridge is hand painted in a traditional still-life manner. Pepsi and Coca-Cola had iconic significance for Pop artists as symbols of youth and American culture but in this case the way in which Hamilton has painted the bottle is also strongly reminiscent of the bottle of Bass beer in Manet's famous 'Bar at the Folies Berg?re'. The row of dots emerging from the toaster is a diagrammatic representation of movement, wittily indicating the path of the toast when ejected from the machine. They are also a homage to the 'Shots' in Marcel Duchamp's 'Large Glass', another work concerned with sex, costume and machines, long admired by Hamilton, who later made the reconstruction of it in the Tate Gallery collection [T02011].

Published in:
Simon Wilson, Tate Gallery: An Illustrated Companion, Tate Gallery, London, revised edition 1991, p.240