Richard Hamilton: Room 13

The citizen / The subject / The state

The citizen was based on stills from a 1980 news report about the IRA ‘dirty protest’. Denied the status of political prisoners, inmates in Long Kesh decided to wear only prison blankets and to daub their cell walls with excrement. Later, a group embarked on hunger strikes. Hamilton wrote that he could not ‘condone the methods’ of the IRA, but was struck by the ‘materialization of Christian martyrdom so profoundly contained on film.’ He also felt a connection as an artist to the prisoners since they had produced ‘wall paintings’, likening their elaborate swirls to the Book of Kells. One side of the painting shows the prisoner and his cell; the other is more abstract, an unconfined space.

In 1988 Hamilton made ‘a parallel representation of the Loyalist’s vainglorious self-image in his free occupation of the streets’. The Orange Order was named after William of Orange, who as King of Protestant England promised (in Hamilton’s words) ‘to impose its brand of religious faith on Ireland by force’. For Hamilton, ‘The Orangeman in full ceremonial rig is scarcely less extreme as a bizarre formalization of protest than is the blanket man.’ The subject was Hamilton’s first painting made with the assistance of a computer, and includes the cell window from The citizen transposed behind the Orangeman’s shoulder.

Representing Britain at the Venice Biennale in 1993, Hamilton created a third painting. The state depicts a British soldier patrolling the streets of Northern Ireland, with a softer focused country lane to his left. Hamilton wanted to show a young soldier stepping back, a movement that for him suggested the British wish to leave Northern Ireland. For this work Hamilton collaged material onto the canvas; the camouflage pattern of the uniform recalls the swirls in both previous works.