Richard Hamilton The subject 1988–90

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Artwork details

Artist
Richard Hamilton 1922–2011
Title
The subject
Date 1988–90
Medium Oil paint on 2 canvases
Dimensions Support, each: 2000 x 1000 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition Purchased 1993
Reference
T06774
On loan to Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia (Madrid, Spain)

Summary

Hamilton has made three diptych paintings relating to the 'troubles' in Northern Ireland. The citizen, 1981-3 (Tate Gallery T03980), depicts a blanketman, a republican detainee at the Maze Prison. Blanketmen, in protest at their non-political status, refused to wear prison-issue clothing or obey prison regulations, and smeared excrement on the walls of their cells. The subject, 1988-90, represents a parading loyalist Orangeman. The state, 1993 (Tate Gallery T06775), shows a British soldier on patrol in Northern Ireland.

The basis for The subject was a television programme to which Hamilton was asked to contribute, in which he created an artwork using the Quantel Paintbox, an advanced computer programme. His material included a black and white photograph, a 35mm colour transparency, a still from a video tape he had made from televised events in Northern Ireland and a transparency of his 'citizen' painting, which he planned to 'cut and paste' with the other elements to create an electronically generated subject. The film was part of the series 'Painting with Light' made by Griffin Film Productions for BBC TV in 1987.

The painting consists of two canvases. As in The citizen, the left-hand panel is vaguely abstract; here the marks derive from the video tape showing an incident filmed at night by infra-red photography, in which an armoured vehicle is approaching the camera down a street littered with bomb damage. The implication is that the Orangeman, like the blanket man, is surrounded by ordure. The metal-grilled window of the republican's cell becomes, in this picture, a window on a building behind the parading Orangeman.

The secret society of the Orange Order was formed in 1795 and took its name from William of Orange, who invaded England from Holland with the intention of overthrowing James II. Agreeing to uphold the established Protestant religion, he was then invited to become King William III of England in 1689. William crossed to Ireland in pursuit of James, who had landed there as part of his plan to regain the English throne, and whose aim, if restored, would have been to re-establish Catholicism in England. 'King Billy' was regarded thereafter as a hero by many Irish Protestants, for securing the hegemony of their religion. Hamilton wrote in 1991 that:

The Orangeman in full ceremonial rig is scarcely less extreme ... than is the blanket man. The present-day uniform of a member of the Orange Lodge of Freemasons in Belfast consists of a black suit, bowler hat, and well-polished black shoes; an orange sash adorned with insignia hangs on his chest and there are large, matching, seventeenth-century-style cuffs on his white kid gloves. Every Orangeman carries a black umbrella on parade except those privileged to possess a 'King Billy' sword which is always held unsheathed and erect. During the marching season the streets of Ulster's towns and cities resound to pipes and drums and the crunch of leather on asphalt that assert allegiance to British rule. Apparently eccentric, the Orange garb is well chosen. The hard bowler hat is not unlike a helmet and an umbrella is clearly a substitute for the sword intended to clear Catholicism from Ireland. From beneath the orange frippery emerges a twenties-vintage City of London business man (late of the Brigade of Guards) - the conservative image to which Northern Irish politics still aspires.
(Hamilton, quoted in Carnegie International 1991, p.82)
The pictures are intended to be hung low on the wall, about a foot above the floor, as though another step would take the depicted figure out into the viewer's space. The original title for this painting was The Apprentice Boy, which was changed to The Orangeman, as the former applied only to members of the Londonderry lodge of the Orange Order. The present title, which was given in 1992, refers to the subject as one who accepts the dominion of a monarch - the opposite of a citizen in the republican sense.

Further reading:
Carnegie International 1991, exhibition catalogue, Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh 1991, pp.82-3
Richard Morphet (ed.), Richard Hamilton, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1992, pp.176-7, 179-180, reproduced p.131 in colour

Terry Riggs
December 1997

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