Toaster is the first of several prints Hamilton has made combining different printing techniques. The image shows a photograph of a toaster, seen from the side, set against a hazy abstract background. This background was printed by offset lithography, resulting in a flat grey and subtly-graduated field of black dots. The toaster itself and the text beneath its image were screenprinted before a rectangle of metalised polyester was collaged between the toaster’s black plastic ends to imitate the shiny metal surface of its body. Hamilton replaced the manufacturer’s logo on one end of the toaster with his own name, in lower case red letters. The print title heads the five paragraphs of text under the photograph. Using the same typeset as that used by the manufacturers, Hamilton humorously adapted texts that he found in Braun advertising brochures to present his print. The opening text appears almost a parody of advertising language: ‘New, practical, outstanding, this print was made possible by a number of fresh ideas. The proof of the excellence of the toaster that inspired this work of art has been supplied by the results of several endurance tests recently performed.’ After recounting the performance achieved by the toaster, forced to keep working for 1458.3 hours, the text goes on to claim that the toaster is so well designed that it ‘has been included among the most attractive objects for everyday use exhibited at the New York Museum of Modern Art – the only automatic toaster in the world to achieve this honour.’ A few further sentences affirm the healthy and tasty properties of toast before the text is terminated with a list of detailed specifications of the print, reminding the potential consumer that the product being advertised is Hamilton’s print and not the object represented in the image – the toaster.
The print Toaster was developed while Hamilton was making a wall-mounted assemblage, originally including parts of the real Braun toaster that the artist greatly admired, also entitled Toaster, 1966-7 (reconstructed 1969, collection the artist). He explained:
By the time I made Toaster the habit of working a print simultaneously with a painting was well established. The print on the toaster theme is less a version than a natural corollary of it. My interest in process, aesthetic or technical, had led me to make a series of studies and reliefs [see The Solomon R. Guggenheim works made in 1965, P04252 and 1965-6, T01195] which echoed, through an analogy in painters’ terms, the design and construction of a building. Similarly, the Toaster painting equates with the appliance, and the print metaphors the public relations vehicle for it. The text is an important part of this work not only for its visual quality (conjunctions of word and image are fundamental to the manner of presentation in the field depicted) but in the way it provides information and tunes the aesthetic response as only the explicitness of words can do.
(Quoted in Collected Words, p.72.)
An involvement with design has been a fundamental aspect of Hamilton’s practice: he taught design to first year students at the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne from 1953-66 and was himself employed as a designer for Encounter magazine in 1956 and for Churchill Gear Machines, Blaydon-on-Tyne, co.Durham (1956-62). In a text written for an exhibition of the work of Dieter Rams (born 1932), chief designer for Braun (in particular designer of their toasters), at the International Design Centre, Berlin, Hamilton wrote of his intense admiration for Rams’s design sensibility, comparing the place Rams’s consumer products occupy in his ‘heart and consciousness’ with that occupied by the Mont Sainte-Victoire in those of the painter Paul Cézanne (1839-1906) (Quoted in Lullin, p.78). Hamilton’s equation of Rams’s toaster with the Mont Saint-Victoire, the subject of many paintings in the last decade of Cézanne’s life, is a Pop gesture – the glamourisation of everyday objects and their elevation into high art (as epitomised in the notion of exhibition the toaster at the Museum of Modern Art, New York). By using images from magazine advertisements, first in collages, and then, altered, as actual works in themselves, Hamilton was following the precedent of Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968), who first used everyday objects to make art in the early years of the twentieth century. Duchamp’s famous concept of the ‘readymade’ took a manufactured object such as, most famously, a urinal (Fountain, 1917, T07573) and transformed it into art by repositioning it and with the addition of the artist’s signature. Duchamp’s readymades were all more or less ‘assisted’, referring to the degree to which the artist altered the original thing. Hamilton most directly referred to this process in Still Life, 1965 (Museum Ludwig, Cologne) a photograph he enlarged from an advertisement from a Braun catalogue of electrical appliances. Deliberately selecting an object from the luxury end of designed and manufactured products, Hamilton reversed Duchamp’s assertion that he chose objects that had no aesthetic value in themselves. Similarly, with Toaster, Hamilton took as his subject an object already fetishised by its presentation as a luxury item and made it his, signalling this possession by replacing the Braun logo with his own name. His alteration of the advertising text repositions the appropriation of the readymade from that of the object – the toaster – to that of the mode of presentation – the brochure created by the manufacturer to enhance their product. In this Pop development of a Dada idea, the form of the artist’s name – that confers value – traditionally his signature on the work, has now become a product logo.
Toaster was printed by offset lithograph in four colours before being screenprinted from four stencils with collaged metallised polyester by the artist and Chris Prater at Kelpra Studio, London on T H Saunders paper. It was produced in an edition of seventy-five plus seven artist’s proofs and published by Hamilton. Tate’s copy is a printer’s proof, inscribed ‘July 67’ and signed by the artist in pencil.
Etienne Lullin, Richard Hamilton: Prints and Multiples 1939-2002, exhibition catalogue, Kunstmuseum Winterthur and Yale Center for British Art, New Haven 2003, pp.78-9, reproduced p.79 in colour.
Richard Hamilton, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1992, pp.40-8 and164, reproduced p.164.
Richard Hamilton: Exteriors, Interiors, Objects, People, exhibition catalogue, Kunstmuseum Winterthur 1990, pp.65 and 70-71, reproduced item 18, p.70 in colour.
Richard Hamilton: Collected Words 1955-82, Stuttgart and London 1982, pp.72 and 90, reproduced p.90 in colour.