Catalogue entry

Richard Hamilton 1922-2011

T01201 Trainsition IIII 1954

Not inscribed.
Oil on board, 36 x 48 (91.5 x 122).
Purchased from Roderic Hamilton (Grant-in-Aid) 1970.
Coll: Given by the artist to his son.
Exh: Hanover Gallery, January–February 1955 (8); Tate Gallery, March-April 1970, and tour (May–August) of Stedelijk van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven and Kunsthalle, Bern (16, repr.).
Lit: Reyner Banham,’ Vision in Motion’, in Art, 5 January 1955, p. 3; Lawrence Alloway, ‘Re Vision’, in Art News and Review, VI, 22 January 1955, p.5; Richard Morphet, catalogue of Tate Gallery retrospective, 1970, p. 21.

In the two or three years before painting T01201, Hamilton had been exploring in his work several aspects of the problem of representing movement on a flat surface. In some works of 1953, Hamilton compressed into a single image in a given work versions of several successive but independent images of movement made by the photographer Muybridge. Then in 1954, he extended the preoccupations of his abstract or near-abstract multiple-perspective paintings of 1952–3 in a group of still-life and figure works. In these, the subject did not move but the artist painted, by superimposition on the same flat surface, several views of it, each view being from a different position taken up by the artist as he moved towards the subject along a straight line. The most important of these works was ‘reNude’, 1954, painted on a surface of the same dimensions (though opposite orientation) as that of T01201.

Concurrently with ‘reNude’, Hamilton worked on a series of paintings concerned with the problem of representing simultaneous movement both of the spectator and (both actually and virtually) of the subject. In four of these, entitled ‘Trainsition’ (I, II, III and IIII respectively), the spectator is envisaged as being in a moving train; in II and III he gazes in the direction of travel, while in I and in IIII (T01201) he looks out at 90° to it. In T01201, because his gaze is fixed on one point (a tree in the middle distance), the entire landscape is in apparent motion around it. Everything seen between train and tree appears to be moving from left to right (the opposite direction to the movement of the train), and everything beyond it from right to left. Arrows, characteristic of Hamilton’s recurring juxtaposition of the diagrammatic and the illusionistic, affirm this virtual movement. The tree stands at the apex of a cone of motion, the width of which at any given distance from the spectator is a measure of the lateral distance which any object at that distance will appear to have travelled. Every mark in the painting except at the point of focus is thus duplicated at a given distance along a notional parallel; inevitably some marks which appear duplicate other marks outside the field of vision while the duplicates of others that arc seen lie beyond the panel in the opposite direction. The pebble-like cluster along the lower edge of the painting is too dense for legibility by reason of its proximity and illusory speed. The two figurative elements in motion are a single telegraph pole of which the motion is apparent (it is thus seen three times in the short space of time represented, with particular clarity when it intersects the point of attention), and a car which, being in actual motion (in the opposite direction to the train), is duplicated at an interval double that which would have applied had it been static. Made at a time when Hamilton had just begun travelling very frequently between London and Newcastle-upon-Tyne, the ‘Trainsition’ paintings represent a stage in Hamilton’s integration of art with day to day experience. In addition, in both feeling and imagery they reveal, as compared, for example, with ‘reNude’, a growing involvement with subjects peculiar to the accelerating, ever more technically sophisticated life of the 1950’s. They are concerned, for one thing, with classic situations of the Hollywood movie of the day—the speeding car seen from a moving train, and (in ‘Carapace’, 1954) the view through the windscreen of a moving car. Thus already in 1954 Hamilton’s work directly anticipates not only the exploration in exhibition form of the imagery of motion but also the overt integration into his art from 1956 of the imagery and techniques of mass popular culture.

While painting T1201, Hamilton was working on the design and organisation of Man, Machine anil Motion, a pictorial review in the form of an exhibition held at Newcastle and the I.C.A. in 1955, of the ‘machines which extend the power of the human body… (by increasing) a man’s capacity for autonomous movement.’

Like the contemporary ‘Carapace’, the title of T01201 is a pun, involving not only the obvious fusion of the words ‘train’ and ‘transition’, but also the adaptation of the Roman numeral IV into a visual pun on the sleepers which support railway tracks. A further intention of the verbal part of the title is the compression into a single word of a statement by the notional spectator which, although primitively expressed, informs accurately about his situation (‘Train sit I on’).

Published in The Tate Gallery Report 1970–1972, London 1972.