Catalogue entry

Richard Hamilton born 1922

T03980 The citizen 1981-3

Oil on two canvases, left canvas 2000 x 1009 (78 3/4 x 39 1/2), right canvas 2000 x 1000 (78 3/4 x 39 3/8) in a single integral frame; overall size including frame 2067 x 2102 (81 3/8 x 82 3/4)
Inscribed on reverse of stretcher bars with indication of top and bottom and of the ordering of canvases from left to right. Lower edge of frame below right-hand canvas bears brass label inscribed ‘THE CITIZEN' with engraved letters
Purchased from the artist (Grant-in-Aid) 1984-5
Exh: Acquisition Priorities: Aspects of Postwar Painting in Europe, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, May-Sept. 1983 (50, repr. p.63 in col.); A Cellular Maze: Rita Donagh, Richard Hamilton, Orchard Gallery, Londonderry, Nov.1983, ICA, April-May 1984 (no number, repr. inside back cover); The Hard-Won Image, Tate Gallery, July-Sept. 1984 (68, repr.); Falls the Shadow: Recent British and European Art, Hayward Gallery, April-June 1986, (no number, repr. p.81); Richard Hamilton, Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh, March-May 1988, Museum of Modern Art, Oxford, May-July 1988 (no number, repr. p.23 in col.)
Lit: Richard Hamilton, A Cellular Maze: Rita Donagh, Richard Hamilton, 1983, [pp.7-8]; Peter Doran ‘The Images of the H-Blocks', Derry Journal, 9 December 1983, front page; Richard Hamilton, ‘Der Widerstand von Long Kesh', Du, no.11, Nov. 1983, pp.32-5, repr. p.33 (col.); Belinda Loftus, ‘Rita Donagh and Richard Hamilton', CIRCA, no.14, Jan.-Feb. 1984, p.42 repr.; Waldemar Januszczak, ‘ICA: Cellular Maze', Guardian, 7 April 1984, p.10; Alistair Smith in conversation with Richard Hamilton, ‘Meanings or How Art Doesn't Imitate Life', Looking into Paintings, A Malachite film production for Channel 4, 1985; ‘Epiphanies', Richard Hamilton in conversation with Richard Cork, radio programme for BBC Radio 3, 1 April 1985; Tate Gallery Report 1984-6, 1986, pp.88-9, repr. p.88 (col.); Murdo MacDonald, ‘Expressive interiors', Scotsman, 21 March 1988, p.8, repr. p.8; Clare Henry,’Variations and permutations', Glasgow Herald, 26 March 1988, p.9 repr.; Julian Spalding interviews Richard Hamilton, ‘Third Ear', radio programme for BBC Radio 3, 28 March 1988; William Ferguson,’Richard Hamilton: Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh', Times Educational Supplement, Scotland, 1 April 1988, p.8; Alice Bain,’Visual Display Units', List, 1-14 April 1988, p.9; Andrew Graham-Dixon, ‘Spot the difference', Independent, 31 May 1988, p.16; Lucy Ellmann, ‘From chic to shit', New Statesman, 10 June 1988, pp.49-50; ‘Hamilton's Progress: Richard Hamilton interviewed by Bill Hare and Andrew Patrizio', Alba, number 9, August 1988, pp.40-1, repr. p.40 where wrongly captioned as ‘Lobby'; Michael Tarantino, ‘Richard Hamilton', Artforum, vol.27, Sept. 1988, p.158 repr.

In this entry, the artist's words are quoted from three unpublished sources; two are letters to the compiler dated 6 March and 2 May 1988 and the other is a reply to a questionnaire from the Tate Gallery's Conservation department, dated 23 July 1985. The relevant source is given in each case. This entry has been approved by the artist.

T03980 was executed at Hamilton's home in Oxfordshire. ‘A TV programme was the source of the idea and also provided the material I used to construct the image. The subject is a detainee in the H blocks named Hugh Rooney' (letter of 6 March 1988). In his catalogue note written in August 1983 to accompany the joint exhibition A Cellular Maze which Hamilton shared with Rita Donagh, Hamilton wrote [pp.7-8] :

By chance in 1980, I was struck by a scene in a TV documentary about republican prisoners in the H blocks. To the surprise of the British public film of men ‘on the blanket', a term used to describe action taken by detainees in defiance of prison regulations. It was a strange image of human dignity in the midst of self- created squalor and it was endowed with a mythic power most often associated with art. It manifested the noble spirit of Irish patriotism having retreated (or was it pushed?) into its own excreta. Even in an environment of total deprivation humanity will find the means of protest. Violent reaction to physical and verbal abuse must lead to an escalation of force that no prisoner can hope to benefit from. Penned in, without the presence of inanimate objects to vent aggression upon, denied the tools of hostility an individual has only what he can make with his own body; the IRA daubed the walls of their cells with shit. The strategy had two virtues, it kept the screws at bay and it was newsworthy. The ‘dirty' protest, as the British called it (in a refined interplay of positive and negative concepts named ‘no wash' by the Irish) lasted for some five years, more than 400 prisoners were involved. It was continued with hard determination until it became clear that the action was ineffectual. A decision was taken to move on to a mass hunger strike to death as a last resort to achieve the objectives.

What we had heard of the blanket protest, mainly through the propaganda agencies of Sinn Fein, could not prepare us for the startling photographic documentation on TV. The picture presented, first by Granada Television and later by the BBC, was shocking less for its scatalogical content than for its potency. An oft declared British view of the IRA as thugs and hooligans did not match the materialization of Christian martyrdom so profoundly contained on film. One became acutely aware of the religious conflict that had resulted in the civil inequalities that gave a platform for IRA activity. The symbols of Christ's agony were there, not only the crucifix on the neck of the prisoners and the rosary which confirmed the monastic austerity but the self inflicted suffering which has marked Christianity from the earliest times.

The figure in T03980 is depicted with a crucifix around his neck. Hamilton was asked if he could remember in what context he had seen the documentation on TV and he replied:

The issue of the Maze prison protest was raised in a Granada programme in ‘The World in Action' series. [The World in Action programme was titled ‘The H-block Fuse' and was transmitted on the evening of 24 November 1980.] This was followed some weeks later by a BBC programme of about the same length. It was the BBC film that provided the image used for the painting but my attention had been caught by the Granada feature. Both were directed exclusively at the prison problem in Northern Ireland. They were, of course, made at the height of the ‘blanket protest' and well into the hunger strike period when Bobbie Sands died (letter of 2 May 1988).

The Maze, one of HM Prisons, was formerly known as Long Kesh Internment Camp, in Antrim. Eight of its buildings were given the nickname of H-blocks because the configuration of their architecture when seen in plan formed the letter H. IRA prisoners held in the Maze prison demanded to be classified by the category of political prisoners, rather than being described as criminals. With this aim in mind they refused to wear the official prison clothing provided for them since this would serve to identify them as criminal rather than political prisoners. They wrapped themselves in prison issue blankets as their form of clothing. This is why the ‘blanket protest' was so named. They also refused to shave and to have their hair cut, and they smeared the walls of their cells with their own excrement and this gave rise to the term ‘dirty' protest. When they were not accorded political prisoner status a group began a hunger strike and this was the cause of Bobbie Sands's death. Rita Donagh, an artist of Irish descent and Hamilton's companion, also produced paintings about the H-Blocks, which were shown in the A Cellular Maze exhibition, along with T03980.

After obtaining some of the film shown on TV, Hamilton described how the composition of T03980 proceeded:

35mm colour transparencies were made from 8mm film and I then made Cibachrome prints from the transparencies. I fitted together three home-made colour prints, two produced the top and bottom of the figure. The third print was mounted beside these without any attempt at integration. This first version is called study 1 [‘The citizen - Study 1', 1981, cibachrome prints and oil on board, 390 x 390, 15 3/8 x 15 3/8, the artist's collection]. I made a second set of prints working with the enlarger to get a better relationship between the parts of the figure. Oil paint was used on both collages to complete the image. Study II was the basis for the composition of the painting [‘The citizen - Study II', 1982, cibachrome prints and oil on board, 588 x 588, 23 1/8 x 23 1/8, the artist's collection].

An edition of 12 dye transfer prints [‘The citizen', 1985, 48.8 x 48.8, 19 1/4 x 19 1/4, repr. Seven British Artists: Figure and Landscape, exh. cat., Edward Totah Gallery, 1986, (p.11 in col.)] was made some time after the painting had been completed. This was done by returning to the source photographs and recollaging using laser scanning techniques in such a way as to produce a collage without seams. A good deal of work by a professional retoucher was also required. It has the appearance of being a source photograph for the entire image but it is a fake (letter of 6 March 1988).

With Study II as the basis for the composition of T03980, the artist had a transparency made from that collage. ‘This was projected on the canvas. A rough pencil outline was drawn on the priming following the projected image. I find it more satisfactory than squaring up. An underpainting was made quite freely with dilute acrylic paint (thinned with acrylic medium and water). Prolonged subsequent painting was done with artists oil colour' (letter of 23 July 1985). Although Hamilton had these preparatory stages to help him progress towards the completion of the figure in the right-hand canvas, he also used his son as a model. The work was made up of two canvases because the preparatory stages led in that direction:

There is a clear separation between the halves of the collage studies; this suggested the double canvas format. The figure is lifesize so it fitted the 100 x 50 cm format well. I liked the idea that the two, self-sufficient, double square canvases would make a square. There was some adjustment of the figure in the rectangle - after two false starts it seemed to work better on the larger scale with a proportion different from the study. It was helpful to be able to move the individual canvases around by myself when I was working on them. Each panel has a distinct character. One is figurative, the other, to some extent non-figurative. The minimal overlap almost confirms the difference (letter of 6 March 1988).

In a recorded conversation between Richard Hamilton and Julian Spalding, transmitted on BBC Radio Three on 28 March 1988 as part of the series Third Ear, Hamilton said how he had ‘... always been interested in figuration and abstraction as two contrasted modes' and felt that their most blatant confrontation in his work to date was to be found in T03980. Hamilton noted in the text of A Cellular Maze catalogue ([p.8]) how the calligraphic, abstract qualities of the H-block prisoner's own mark-making, which is represented by the left-hand canvas of T03980, could be seen to have stylistic links back to the earliest phases of Irish art:

Each cell is marked with the graphic personality of its inhabitants; the walls look different because the pigment, of their own creation, is deployed in varying ways. It isn't difficult to discern the megalithic spirals of New Grange inscribed there, nor are the Gaelic convolutions of the book of Kells remote from the wall paintings of Long Kesh.

In the Third Ear conversation, mention was made of the scatological content of a body of Hamilton's work, which includes T03980. Hamilton recalled that in 1973, the year of the world oil crisis, ‘my memento mori begins to appear' and by memento mori he meant the subject matter of human excrement. Actually, such subject material began to appear in Hamilton's work in 1971; ‘Soft Pink Landscape-Study' 1971 depicts two young women in a section of sunlit woodland, with a roll of toilet paper of the Andrex brand set in the foreground (repr. Richard Hamilton, exh. cat., Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York 1973, p.85 in col.). Soft Blue Landscape-Study' 1971 depicts a female nude with bared bottom, again in woodland, caught in the act of defecation, while ‘Flower-Piece' 1971 has two pieces of human excrement coloured blue placed in front of a vase containing a bunch of mixed flowers.

Hamilton spoke of the ‘dirty' protest when in conversation with Richard Cork for Radio 3:

I was able to deal with the dirty protest in a very ambivalent way. It was a work of art that they were doing; smearing excrement on the walls is a kind of gestural art of twentieth century fine artists...Some people find it rather disgusting that anyone should be interested in painting that kind of subject but I would find it too distressing to try to get involved in the starvation of children, for example, so it's a question of jumping in when the chance offers itself, when the image itself is so compelling. You can't go out and find it.

A screen-print entitled ‘Kent State', which Hamilton produced in 1970 (P77043), serves as a precedent for T03980 in the context of the artist finding a compelling image presented to him in a serendipitous manner via the television screen. Protesting students clashed with the National Guard at Kent State university campus in Ohio, USA, in May 1970, and an amateur cine-film recorded the image of a wounded student lying on the ground. This cine-film was then processed and transmitted both on American TV news and on a BBC news broadcast. Hamilton was arrested not only by the image on his TV screen but also by the transmogrification of that image before it was presented electronically to an audience of millions of viewers. The preparation of T03980 also went through transmogrifications, worked out as described in an earlier paragraph.

T03980 is inspired by questions about the national identity of the Irish people and works of this nature go back a long way in Hamilton's oeuvre. After reading and re-reading James Joyce's Ulysses while on National Service, Hamilton was stimulated in the late 1940s to produce some illustrations to the text. In 1949 Hamilton made a small pen and ink sketch of a legendary character found in Ulysses called Finn MacCool. MacCool appeared in the Cyclops episode in Ulysses, along with another character whom Joyce calls only ‘the citizen'. The subject of Finn MacCool was revived in 1982-3 when Hamilton was working on T03980 and four prints about Finn and his relations were produced; ‘Of the Tribe of Finn' 1982, ‘Of the Tribe of Finn' 1982-3 (repr. Richard Hamilton: Prints. A Complete Catalogue of Graphic Works 1939-83, 1984 p.84, no.122), ‘Finn MacCool' 1983 (repr. ibid., p.90, no.133) and ‘Finn MacCool' 1983. Hamilton, when asked if T03980 had any relationship with ‘the citizen' in Joyce's Ulysses, replied:

The Fenian bar-fly ‘citizen' was associated by Joyce with an heroic Irish chieftain (I chose the name of Finn MacCool from dozens listed throughout the orgy of name-droppings littering the cyclops episode) who became identified in my renewed consideration of the mythic character with a photograph of a nationalist detainee, Raymond Pius McCartney, on hunger strike in the Maze prison in Northern Ireland (letter of 2 May 1988).

Thus, all the works around Finn MacCool and ‘the citizen' inter-relate and look back to Hamilton's long artistic association with Joyce's Ulysses. Hamilton has deliberately given the ‘c' in ‘citizen' in the title of T03980 a lower case, and this is to point its relationship with Joyce.

Hamilton was asked about the steel frame which appears to be an integral part of the work. He replied that ‘The frame, made from square section tube, maintains the separations [between the two distinct canvases] but it is also a practical solution to the problem of portability for it was designed to be taken apart for travelling. There is also the figurative aspect in the framing for the steel will corrode and it assumes a prison connotation - a rusty cage' (letter of 6 March 1988).

The artist has long been interested in exhibition and interior design; indeed the interior as a subject entered his work with the collage ‘Just what is it that makes today's homes so different, so appealing?' of 1956. Mark Francis, in his catalogue essay for the Hamilton exhibition of interiors at the Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh in 1988, cites significant examples of Hamilton's examination of interior spaces:

In the 1950s especially, Hamilton also concerned himself with exhibition design and the manipulation of interior semi-architectural space, beginning with the Growth and Form exhibition at the ICA in 1951, and continuing with Man, Machine and Motion (1955), This is Tomorrow (1956), An Exhibit (1957), Gallery for a Collection of Brutalist and Tachiste Art (1958), and Exhibit 2 (1959). Though he organised the Duchamp exhibition at the Tate Gallery in 1966 and has always installed his own major shows, it was not until 1978, when he selected The Artist's Eye exhibition at the National Gallery in London, which included a working television set, and an ironing board, carpet and chairs, that Hamilton again turned his hand to the creation of a gallery space (p.7).

For an exhibition in 1984 entitled Four Rooms, the Arts Council commissioned Richard Hamilton, as one of four artists, to create a 3-dimensional room which would reflect his interest in the manipulation of interior space. He chose to create a clinical and impersonal ‘Treatment Room' (repr. Four Rooms, exh. cat., AC tour 1984, [pp.19-20] in col.), which contained a metal x-ray table covered with a standard issue hospital blanket over which was suspended a large television set. Hamilton's text in the Four Rooms exhibition catalogue is revealing in the context of T03980:

The creation of a room of one's own is among the most revealing things we do. Even more decisively than in the clothes we wear, our sense of style and the understanding of our situation in historical time is expressed by the organisation of furniture and choice of decoration in whatever we call home. Having taught ‘interior design' ... I have to accept the activity as a dominant factor in my life.

Exhibitions have attracted me no less. The form itself has unique attributes. It demands mobile involvement on the part of the spectator to absorb whatever idea or information is being presented. The static experiencing of books, TV, or movies from which a stream of sequenced material is directed at a captive reader of work or image is quite different from the kinetic interaction of an audience with a contrived space ...

Since 1956, when the ‘Interior' theme first engrossed me, the preoccupation has usually found an outlet in painting. A difference of mood has shown itself over the years until, with a recent subject of a prison cell and its occupant in the Long Kesh prison in Northern Ireland, a complete polarity becomes evident between the brash expectations of the fifties and the present consciousness of depression. When the proposal to design a space for the Four Rooms exhibition occured it was not so unlikely that the outcome would be inspired by the bleak, disinterested, seedy clinical style of the establishment institution ([p.18]).

Hamilton decided to create an interior around T03980 for the Fruitmarket Gallery exhibition. He admits that his thinking about a private space for T03980 was influenced by the Tate Gallery's loan conditions, which indicated that the work would be best exhibited behind a barrier for protection. When T03980 was shown at the Orchard Gallery in Londonderry in 1983, it occupied a low-ceilinged side room on its own, which tended to give the painting the intensity of an altarpiece or icon. Hamilton created a cell-like interior for T03980 at the Fruitmarket Gallery, with the painting hung on one short end wall and the viewer permitted to look at it through a cordoned-off gap in the other end wall. All four walls were painted a pale turquoise colour, the floor was painted a grey ‘the colour of concrete' and the ceiling was a white velarium through which a soft, low light was filtered. In a letter to the compiler 19 September 1988 Hamilton commented that ‘the ‘pale turquoise' wall colour was really an attempt to get a match with the background colour of the painting so that it would merge into the walls. Since I mixed the paint from memory it was a little off.' Directly on the floor, flush against the left-hand and end walls, was a single size grey foam mattress onto which a grey blanket was arranged. Thick brown paint was spread by hand along the left-hand wall, the wall on which T03980 hung and some of the right-hand wall, in emulation of the marks made by prisoners on the walls of the cells and echoing those marks translated into a formal device in ‘The citizen'.

Bill Hare and Andrew Patrizio, in their Alba interview asked Hamilton if there was not ‘just a hint of mockery at direct spontaneous self-expression in the shit-smeared wall of ‘The Citizen' [sic.] installation at the Fruitmarket Gallery' and the artist replied:

I think it's a relevant point. I've always had a hankering to work more fluently. I felt that as a young man I was very fluent and easy. I could draw anything, I had no inhibitions at all. I kind of lost it, or threw it away, or decided it was better to avoid it. There are occasions when I think, ‘Wouldn't it be nice to be able to make some gestural work.' ...

I did the shit-smearing myself in The Citizen [sic.] here [in the Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh]. I'm rather glad that I did. The reason was because it is possible to discern a difference between the marks made on the wall, which were done in an attempt to emulate what would have happened, using simulated shit mixed with sawdust. Every cell I've seen is different. I realised that he has actually put it as near as he can to himself because he sleeps in that corner, and there is more shit there. It's all to do with defiance, I think. Defiance of authority. I didn't try to put myself in those conditions but I thought about what the conditions would be in which a person would do this and then when I'd done it I thought, ‘I'm not going to overdo it.' I thought it was remarkable that the painting has all this careful and rather contrived painterly shit which I know I spent a long time on and there's all this course stuff which is the reality and the contrast between the reality and its translation into pictorial values was something I thought was a good lesson, but having seen the natural in direct opposition to the refinement of art I thought, ‘I'll take the art every time!' (p.41).

When T03980 was shown at the Museum of Modern Art, Oxford, the same environment was used.

Hamilton, in conversation with Richard Morphet, said ‘The citizen' is like a parable of the artist in society. However deprived he is, the will to art is there.'

T03980 was purchased from the artist in two instalments, the right-hand canvas was bought in 1984 and the left-hand canvas in 1985.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1984-86: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions Including Supplement to Catalogue of Acquisitions 1982-84, Tate Gallery, London 1988, pp.160-5