Hamilton was born and bred in London, attending the Slade School of Art from 1948-51. In 1952 he co-founded the Independent Group, a subsidiary of the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London, with fellow artist Eduardo Paolozzi (born 1924). An association of artists, architects, critics and academics, the Group focused their discussions on technology and contemporary culture. In 1956 Hamilton created some of his most famous images for This is Tomorrow, an exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery. Just what is it that makes today’s homes so different, so appealing? 1956 (Kunsthalle Tübingen, Zundel Collection) is a collage which was reproduced as a poster for the exhibition. Hamilton subsequently remade the image as a print in two versions, one in the original 1950s style (1991) and the other, Just what is it that makes today’s homes so different? (1993, Tate P11358), updated to reflect 1990s culture. In the original image, a semi-naked body builder holds a large red lollipop bearing the word ‘pop’ at the level of his genitals, signalling the arrival in Britain of ‘Pop’ art. Hamilton ironically defined this in 1957 as ‘Popular (designed for a mass audience), Transient (short term solution), Expendable (easily forgotten), Low cost, Mass produced, Young (aimed at youth), Witty, Sexy, Gimmicky, Glamorous, Big business’. (Quoted in Richard Hamilton, p.24.) He subsequently referred to pop culture as inducing a ‘peculiar mixture of reverence and cynicism ... in me’ (quoted in Richard Hamilton, p.84).
Hamilton’s practice draws on and comments upon a wide range of popular culture media and current events. Imagery found in newspapers, magazines, television, film and advertising is subjected to collage and painting techniques. Photographs are painted over and paintings are made from photographs. The techniques of screenprinting and lithography provide further versions of an image. More recently Hamilton has worked with a Quantel Paintbox graphic imager which has allowed him to collage on computer and produce inkjet prints. Images often reappear in successive states of a large series. Swingeing London, for example, is the title of seven paintings and many more prints based on a 1967 press photograph of rock star Mick Jagger and Robert Fraser (Hamilton’s gallerist at the time) handcuffed together inside a police van. Hamilton’s treatment of the image in some of its states pushes at the limits of representation. Photographs of seductive women, still lives, landscapes, interiors and buildings are all treated with a nod to art history and a questioning of the relationship between painting and photography, representation and reality. At the same time Hamilton’s use of the language of popular culture reflects on the nature of the imagery we all find so appealing today.
Richard Hamilton, exhibition catalogue, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York 1974
Richard Hamilton, exhibition brochure, Tate Gallery, London 1992
Richard Hamilton: New Technology and Printmaking, exhibition catalogue, Alan Cristea Gallery, London 1998