Peter Blake

Self-Portrait with Badges


Peter Blake born 1932
Oil paint on board
Support: 1743 × 1219 mm
frame: 1792 × 1265 × 70 mm
Presented by the Moores Family Charitable Foundation to celebrate the John Moores Liverpool Exhibition 1979

Display caption

At the core of Blake’s work is his fascination and engagement with the world of popular culture and entertainment, including music, film and sport. This self-portrait shows his interest in America with objects such as the denim jacket (rare in Britain at the time), baseball boots, badges, and the magazine dedicated to Elvis Presley, who had just become well-known in Britain. Blake uses these items like a 17th-century portrait painter, to suggest his interests or achievements.

Gallery label, October 2019

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Catalogue entry


Inscribed ‘Peter Blake-Self Portrait/with Badges’ on back
Oil on hardboard, 68 3/4 × 48 (174.7 × 121.9)
Presented by the Moores Family Charitable Foundation to celebrate the John Moore's Liverpool Exhibitions 1979
Prov: Purchased from the artist through Waddington Galleries by the Moores Charitable Foundation for presentation to the Tate Gallery 1979
Exh: The John Moores Liverpool Exhibition 1961, November 1961–January 1962 (39, repr. awarded 1st Prize in the Junior Section); British Self Portraits, Arts Council exhibition, Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle, February–March 1962 (6) and subsequent tour to Leeds City Art Gallery, Birmingham City Art Gallery, the National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth, Leicester City Art Gallery, Salford Art Gallery, Guildford House, Guildford, and the Bournemouth College of Art; Peter Blake, Bristol City Art Gallery, November–December 1969 (25, repr. in colour); Peter Blake, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, September – November 1973 (22, colour) and subsequent tour to Kunstverein Hamburg and Gemeente Museum, The Hague; Pop Art in England, Kunstverein, Hamburg, February–March 1976 (4, repr.) and subsequent tour to the Stadt Galerie in Lenbachhaus, Munich, and York City Art Gallery
Lit: Robert Melville, Motif, x, 1962/3, p.18; Robert Melville, New Statesman, 5 November 1965
Repr: Herbert Read, Contemporary British Art, 1964, pl.48; Lucy Lippard, Pop Art, c.1966, p.45; Tate Gallery 1978–80, p.41 in colour

Peter Blake has painted about 11 self-portraits, the first, a head, in about 1949 while a student at the Gravesend College of Art. The second was painted in 1952 during his period of national service in the Royal Air Force and shows the artist wearing an airforce jacket and harlequin trousers. Blake also painted about 8 small heads of himself in 1953–4 during his first year at the Royal College of Art; these were later all thrown away. The last is ‘Self-Portrait with Badges’ which Blake painted between the end of June and September 1961, working an average of 12 hours a day, at 28 The Avenue, London W4, where at the time he shared a studio with Richard Smith. No studies or photographs were used for the painting and no other versions were made. Blake painted his head, shoes, trousers and shirt using a mirror; the jacket with badges was place on a dummy and painted directly.

Blake has never painted a portrait of himself wearing badges except for this picture, but in 1955 painted two boys wearing badges, ‘ABC Minors’, a reference to a Saturday morning cinema club for children. He started to collect badges in the mid 1950s; some were bought in shops and some brought back from the USA. Blake first wore denim trousers in 1948 which he made from a boiler suit, and in 1956 obtained his first denim suit which he bought in France. In ‘Self Portrait with Badges’ he was wearing Levi trousers, a denim jacket which he obtained by exchange for his French denim jacket and a shirt bought from a sports shop. At this time he frequently wore baseball boots, and wide trouser turnups were common in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

The badges in the portrait which can be identified are as follows: on the left (i.e. Blake's right), second row, a First World War medal and below a badge with the head of Yvonne de Carlo and to the right of it one with the head of Max Wall, the English actor. On the right, (Blake's left), first row, is a badge with ‘I like Fiorello’ (a reference to a show in New York), an American Flag (a reference to ‘God Bless America’) and ‘Diana Crack Shot’ (a reference to ‘Diana’ airguns). Second row, left, a French General, Road Safety and Pepsi Cola badges. In the third row a large Elvis Presley badge, ‘Temperance 7’ (a pop group) and Red Cross Day (Blake had used this badge in the imagery of ‘On the Balcony’ 1955–7 (collection Tate Gallery, T00566); beneath them a Lodge Plug badge. In the fifth row an American Boy Scout badge and Adlai Stevenson campaign and Union Jack badges. In the sixth row is a badge with a portrait of an American football player and an Adlai Stevenson campaign badge without words. In the bottom row is a Dan Dare badge. Of the badges in the self-portrait only those of Elvis Presley, Yvonne de Carlo and Max Wall were of personal interest to Blake and he usually wore only one or two badges at a time.

Blake depicts himself holding an unofficial monthly magazine devoted to Elvis Presley edited by Albert Hand. This magazine was later to reproduce ‘Self Portrait with Badges’. At the time the picture was painted denim jackets were rare, not part of a painter's uniform, as they were commonly to become, but Blake liked the idea of himself working in the jacket and wiping his brushes on the sleeve and suggested this in the picture with loose brushtrokes on the sleeve on the left. The scars on the painter's forehead were the result of an accident when he was 17.

The Stars and Stripes at the lower left of the jacket was to indicate Blake's interest in the USA as a phenomenon, though at that time he had not been there; his first visit was in 1963 when he was commissioned by the Sunday Times to make drawings in California, where he visited Holywood and Los Angeles.

When Blake painted ‘Self Portrait with Badges’ he did not see it as relating to other paintings of the time in England, except possibly work of 10 years or so earlier by Lucian Freud, but to paintings by the American artists Ben Shahn and Honoré Sharrer. Blake was conscious that it was idiosyncratic to depict an adult with badges. He saw himself as a realist painter in the realist tradition. He considers that he may have been subconsciously influenced by Watteau's painting ‘Gilles’ in the Louvre when deciding the pose and situation of ‘Self Portrait with Badges’. As he wanted to submit the painting to the John Moores Exhibition, and was short of time, he was unable to include a flower bed in front of the fence in the painting. The background was executed in the garden.

The painting won 1st Prize in the Junior Section of the John Moores Exhibition in 1961. Blake had submitted ‘on the Balcony’ to the previous John Moores Exhibition in 1959, but it was rejected by the jury.

This catalogue entry is based on a discussion with the artist (19 February 1980).

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1978-80: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1981

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