Release – Stage Proofs 1-13 and 16-19 (P02416-32; the series is incomplete) is a group of seventeen prints showing the process of building up colour to make the print Release (P04254). Each proof represents the successive addition of a screen, made from a hand-cut stencil, used to apply a particular colour. The completed print Release combines the seventeen colour screens, each used once, and the photographic black screen which has the texture of an imprint on canvas as well as the photographic halftone, used twice.
The print Release derives its title from the name of an organisation set up to provide legal aid and social support to people who have fallen foul of the law, often as a result of drug abuse. In 1972, Diana Melly (married to the jazz musician, writer and critic George Melly and working for Release) asked Hamilton if he would make a print to help raise funds for the organisation which was in financial difficulties. The artists Jim Dine (born 1935) and David Hockney (born 1937) also contributed, deciding to divide the profits between Release and the National Council for Civil Liberties. Because of the focus of Release on those suffering from drug abuse, Hamilton decided to use one of the images he had created in his Swingeing London group of works. These were generated by the arrest and imprisonment of Hamilton’s art dealer Robert Fraser (1937-86) in 1967 for the possession of heroin. The artist had created a poster from a collage of press cuttings from the event entitled Swingeing London 67 – poster, 1967-8 (P01855), before embarking on a group of seven paintings entitled Swingeing London 67 1968 (private collection) and Swingeing London 67 (a) – (f), 1968-9 (Swingeing London 67 (f) is T01144).
The Swingeing London paintings are all based on the same image – a photograph of Robert Fraser and the rock star Mick Jagger in a police van being taken from jail to court. The photograph, taken by John Twine, was published in the Daily Sketch newspaper on 29 June 1967 and shows the two men, handcuffed together, trying to shield their faces from the press photographers. Hamilton had come across the image in the collection of press cuttings Fraser’s secretary had given to him when he was creating the print Swinging London 67 – poster and he placed it at the top left corner of the composition. In order to use the image to make an etching (Swingeing London 67 – etching, 1968) Hamilton purchased a ten by eight inch print of the whole of Twine’s photograph from the Fleet Street offices of the Daily Sketch. He extended the picture on all four sides, revealing a police guard on the left and second van window on the right. The image was also enlarged up and down, showing the curve of the roof inside the van and more of the prisoners’ chests than had been previously visible. He retouched the photograph to remove the outside of the van and the overlapping glass of the sliding window that cut vertically through the centre of the image. After making these alterations, Hamilton planned to silkscreen the resulting photographic image in black over a coloured, conventional oil painting. As this involved extensive experimentation, Hamilton created seven paintings, making line drawings to define the various colour fields for each version. When he set out to make the print Release, he discovered that he had by chance kept the drawing defining the colour fields in the (e) painting and was able to use this as the basis for producing seventeen hand-cut stencils for building up the colours on the screenprint. For the final definition of the image in black, Hamilton created a photographic stencil from another accident: a photographic stencil created to use on the Swingeing London canvases had been cleaned of residual black ink between each use on a painting by pressing it on white paper, effectively creating a print. As the stencil had been used first on canvas, the texture of the fabric had been pressed into the black ink, with the result that the accidental proof had both the photographic image and the canvas texture. This was used for the final printing screen and its effects are visible in the transition between Proofs 18 and 19.
The artist’s inscriptions in pencil on each proof indicate the progression of colour, with details of the two missing proofs – stages 14 and 15 – inscribed on proof 13. These are: Stage Proof 1 – grey (P02416); Stage Proof 2 – warm grey (P02417); Stage Proof 3 – green (P02418); Stage Proof 4 – pink (P02419); Stage Proof 5 – grey (P02420); Stage Proof 6 – pink (P02421); Stage Proof 7 – flesh (P02422); Stage Proof 8 – Naples yellow (P02423); Stage Proof 9 – orange (P02424); Stage Proof 10 – blue (P02425); Stage Proof 11 – red (P02426); Stage Proof 12 – dark grey (P02427); Stage Proof 13 – warm grey (P02428); Stage Proof 14 – red (missing); Stage Proof 15 – transparent white (missing); Stage Proof 16 – darkest grey (P02429); Stage Proof 17 – applied die-cut silver (P02430); Stage Proof 18 – transparent black (P02431); Stage Proof 19 – second layer transparent black (P02432).
Like Release, the Stage Proofs were printed by the artist and Chris Prater at Kelpra Studio, London on Hodgkinson mould-made paper. It is not known whether they are unique.
Swingeing London III, 1972 (P04255) is another print generated from the screenprinting process of applying successive layers of colour using the same image.
Etienne Lullin, Richard Hamilton: Prints and Multiples 1939-2002, exhibition catalogue, Kunstmuseum Winterthur and Yale Center for British Art, New Haven 2003 pp.114-5, reproduced p.115 in colour.
Richard Hamilton: Prints 1939-83, Stuttgart and London 1984, p.79, reproduced p.79.
Richard Hamilton: Collected Words 1953-1982, Stuttgart and London 1982, pp.104-5, reproduced p.105.