Pop, 1957–63

In a letter to the architects Peter and Alison Smithson in January 1957, outlining ideas for an exhibition that could be more coherent than This is Tomorrow, Hamilton listed the ‘characteristics of Pop Art’, effectively inventing the term.

Pop Art is:

Popular (designed for a mass audience)
Transient (short-term solution)
Expendable (easily forgotten)
Low cost
Mass produced
Young (aimed at youth)
Witty
Sexy
Gimmicky
Glamorous
Big business

The list generated Hamilton’s next group of paintings from 1958 to 1963. Like his 1956 collage, Hamilton considered these works tabular as well as pictorial. Tabulation allowed compilation and comparison, as Hamilton combined different subjects (cars, machines, appliances, women, and men), materials (moulded plastics, foils, paint, printed matter) and modes of representation (figuration, diagrams, signs, and abstract marks). Figures were rendered in fragments, acknowledging the way that advertisements incite attraction to particular body parts. Hamilton rhymed the sexual desire infusing modern looking with the consumer’s craving for the curves and surfaces of new products.

After a number of paintings featuring women, Hamilton embarked on a series exploring conventional ideas of male beauty, environments, and gadgets. Their title was generated by adding ‘Towards’ to the name of a regular fashion column in Playboy: Towards a definitive statement on the coming trends in menswear and accessories. Hamilton surrounded his politician, stockbroker, sportsman, and astronaut with radios, a camera diagram, a telephone, a chest-expander and a jukebox, and designed special frames for three of the paintings.

Hamilton published texts around these paintings, accompanied by some of his source images. Both his layouts and his texts were innovative in style. His essay ‘Urbane Image’ was written for Living Arts magazine. For the cover, Hamilton invited the photographer Robert Freeman to shoot a portrait of him dressed as an American football player, surrounded by many of the elements of his paintings.

Hamilton’s attitude towards modern consumer culture was complex. He was neither naively celebratory nor satirical when paying ‘hommage’ to a ‘giant corporation’ and the world of advertising. His attitude was summarised in a line from Urbane Image’: ‘An art of affirmatory intention is not-uncritical.’