Richard Hamilton: Room 16

Polaroids and portraits

While Hamilton was visiting Roy Lichtenstein in 1968, the American took a Polaroid of the British artist in his studio; some time later the Canadian artist Ian Baxter took a second photograph in similar circumstances. Back in the UK Hamilton bought a Polaroid camera and set about a project to ask artists and friends to photograph him, slowly acknowledging that each person’s sensibility was surprisingly marked in the image they created, despite the apparent automatic nature of this camera. Hamilton collected the Polaroids and published four volumes of them between 1971 and 2001. He later said that he realised ‘how silly, how banal I often look’, but wanted a binding theme through the series. ‘I submit to the will of the photographer rather than make the more aggressive demand of photographing him or her.’

Francis Bacon’s Polaroid portrait of Hamilton intrigued him because the blurs and poor lighting led to an image that recalled the appearance of Bacon’s paintings. Transforming one to a collotype print, Hamilton asked Bacon to paint some marks on it, but when this could not happen, he tried to learn to paint a brushstroke like Bacon: this led to the series Portrait of the artist by Francis Bacon.

Hamilton also made a number of self-portraits in different media, one with lenticular printing, others combining the languages of painting and Polaroid photography. Alongside these works this room gathers some of Hamilton’s portraits of his close friends Dieter Roth and Derek Jarman.