Hugh Gaitskell as a Famous Monster of Filmland (1963) is a print based on a coloured pencil sketch that Hamilton made in the process of working out how to compose the painting Hugh Gaitskell as a Famous Monster of Filmland, 1964 (Arts Council Collection, London). The subject of the work was the leader of the Labour Party, then in opposition, who had supported the government’s retention of a nuclear deterrent, despite his own party’s lack of support. Hamilton, an anti-nuclear campaigner and supporter of the Labour Party, saw this as a betrayal and decided to use Gaitskell in order to make a satirical painting. In the early 1960s Hamilton and his wife Terry O’Reilly, a CND activist, collected press photographs, headlines and newspaper cartoonists’ caricatures. When she died tragically in a car crash in 1962, a few months before the death of Gaitskell, Hamilton shelved the project for a year, before taking it up again in homage to her.
The title of the work refers to a magazine called Famous Monsters of Filmland, a publication set up in Los Angeles in 1958. One of the images the Hamiltons had put aside for the project was the front cover of issue number 10, January 1961, showing the film star Claude Raines (1889-1967) in mask and make-up for The Phantom of the Opera. Hamilton used the similarity between the line of the lower edge of the mask, just above the actor’s mouth, with a line created by Gaitskell’s pursed lips and fleshy cheeks in a press photograph. In the print, an area of white under Gaitskell’s left eye echoes a semi-circle of white paint on the actor’s mask on the magazine cover. Hamilton emphasised this with a red line, illuminating the left side of Gaitskell’s face with a broad vertical strip of intense red in the background that dominates the image and emphasises its sinister tone. Hamilton commented:
In the search for archetypes the monster emerges inevitably along with those other primal figures: the hero of the western, the pin-up girl, the spaceman. Hollywood and Hammer Films gave renewed life to the monster myth … identification of Gaitskell as the political monster was natural … A satirical painting should be topical and passionate; I imagined the picture as one to be violently executed, it should be big, the paint aggressive, the meaning awfully clear.
(Quoted in Collected Words, p.58.)
In the end, Hamilton used a combination of photographic enlargement and oil paints to make the painting of his monster, which recalls the eviscerated heads painted by Francis Bacon (1909-92). In contrast with the painting’s large scale and rich, vibrant colour, the drawing and resulting print appear delicate and minimal, the monster behind the man’s features suggested by colour and expression rather than overtly depicted.
In 1982 Hamilton decided to create a portfolio of prints to accompany the de luxe edition of his collected writings, using a combination of collotype and screenprint. He selected nine drawings he had made between 1957 and 1964 from which to make prints. Seven of these, like Hugh Gaitskell as a Famous Monster of Filmland, were studies made in the process of developing a painting. While it is customary for artists to include a single print or drawing in a luxury edition of a publication, it is more unusual for an artist to create a group of prints all produced by the old fashioned, time consuming and expensive method of collotype. This methodology recalls the use of collotype by Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968) who created several luxury publications including reproductions of notes, sketches, drawings, paintings and sculptures during the course of his artistic career, including the Green Box, 1934 (Tate T07744) and the Box in a Valise, circa 1943 (L02092). Hamilton’s encounter with the Green Box in the late 1940s began a long relationship with Duchamp’s processes and concepts, including the typographic translation of the Green Box notes (published in 1960) and the reconstruction of Duchamp’s major work, the Large Glass (Tate T02011), according to these notes for Duchamp’s retrospective at Tate in 1966.
The Collected Words de luxe portfolio was created in an edition of one hundred plus ten artist’s proofs. The first sixty plus six artist’s proofs are boxed as a set; the remaining forty plus four artist’s proofs were released individually. Tate’s copy of Hugh Gaitskell as a Famous Monster of Filmland (1963) is the one hundredth in the edition, which was printed by the artist and Heinz Häfner in Stuttgart. The collotype stage was printed at Eberhard Schreiber on Deutsch-Japan paper; the pages were then screenprinted at Frank Kicherer. The prints were mounted at the artist’s home in Oxfordshire and boxed by Pella Erskine-Tulloch, London. The edition was distributed by Waddington Graphics, London.
Richard Hamilton: Collected Words 1953-1982, London 1982, pp.56-60.
Richard Hamilton: Prints 1939-83, exhibition catalogue, Waddington Galleries, London 1984, reproduced p.88, fig.130 in colour.
Rtchard Hamilton: Retrospective, exhibition catalogue, MACBA Barcelona and the Ludwig Museum, Cologne 2002.