This poster is one of a group of paintings and prints Richard Hamilton made after his art dealer Robert Fraser and Mick Jagger, lead singer of the Rolling Stones, were arrested (and in Fraser's case eventually imprisoned) for the possession of drugs in 1967.
Fraser and Jagger were arrested in a police raid on a party at the Sussex farmhouse of Keith Richards, the Rolling Stones’ guitarist. It is currently on display at Tate Liverpool as part of the DLA Piper Series: Innocence and Experience, curated by Marianne Faithfull. Here, she discusses why she selected this work.
What a wonderful thing it is to elevate a sordid story into an art work.
First of all, I think this piece has stood the test of time so well. I remember when I first saw it, I wondered if, in the future, it would look like just a bunch of old cuttings. But it really doesn’t, it’s history. And this work makes it very clear – it’s history. I love this poster; I have it in my own home. Richard Hamilton gave it to me himself.
Richard was one of Robert Fraser’s artists, at the Robert Fraser Art Gallery, so he had a particular interest in this debacle because of Robert, who was arrested with Mick and Keith at Redlands. But he quickly caught on to the injustice, insanity, and just plain ridiculousness of the whole trial. It’s a story of general persecution, driven by nothing but the desire to bring down the Rolling Stones and their friends.
The picture at the top of the work of Robert and Mick in handcuffs is a very strong statement. And the fact that Hamilton calls it Swingeing London is also really brilliant – the way that a court of law was prepared to come down so hard on what it saw as the new, dangerous ‘Swinging London’. And the way that the newspapers picked up on the incense, with that headline, ‘A Strong, Sweet Smell of Incense’ – it’s just the same way they kept referring, at his trial, to Oscar Wilde burning incense, as though that was evidence of perversity in itself. I was so pleased at the time. In hindsight, it was a symbolic code suggesting the taint of sin and evil. Using this headline placed the incident at Redlands within a lineage of wrongdoing. It was absurd and we were made scapegoats. We were all over the evening news, but we were not criminals. We were all so young and innocent at the time. The arrests were a great shock to everyone.
I will always be grateful to William Rees-Mogg and his famous article in The Times, ‘Who Breaks a Butterfly on a Wheel?’, where he talked about ‘traditional British values’ needing to include justice for everybody.
I do believe that things like this and the trial of Oscar Wilde are essential in the sense that they help change society.
The DLA Piper Series: Innocence and Experience, curated by Marianne Faithfull, is at Tate Liverpool from 21 April to 2 September 2012