Peter Blake

The Fine Art Bit


Not on display

Peter Blake born 1932
Enamel, wood and postcards on board
Support: 914 × 610 × 25 mm
Purchased 1970

Display caption

Here Blake is playing with ideas about art and its reproduction. The boldly-coloured stripes relate to everyday images such as flags, packaging and signage. They may also refer to the hard-edged abstract painting of the late 1950s.

Blake juxtaposes them with a traditional idea of ‘high art’, represented by a frieze of postcard reproductions of paintings and sculptures from the past.

Gallery label, July 2008

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Catalogue entry

Peter Blake b. 1932
T01174 THE FINE ART BIT 1959
Not inscribed.
Enamel paint, wood relief and collage on board, 36×24×1 (91.5×61×2.5).
Purchased from the artist (Knapping Fund) 1970.
Exh: Theo Crosby, sculpture: Peter Blake, objects: John Lathàm, Libraries, I.C.A. 1960 (no month given in catalogue) (8); British Art Today, San Francisco Museum of Art, Dalias Museum for Contemporary Arts, Santa Barbara Museum of Art, November 1962–April 1963 (9. repr.); British section, 3eme Biennale de Paris, Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, September–November 1963 (1); British Paintings from the Paris Biennale 1963, Royal College of Art, January 1964 (not numbered); Profile III. Englische Kunst der Gegenwart, Städtische Kunstgalerie, Bochum, April–June 1964 (15); Britische Kunst Heute, Kunstverein, Hamburg, March–May 1968 (3); City Art Gallery, Bristol, November–December 1969 (27).
Repr: Robert Melville, ‘The Durable Expendables of Peter Blake’, in Motif, X, Winter 1962–3, p. 29.

The artist told the compiler (conversation, 25 June 1970) that the thin strip of black-painted wood defining the limits of the picture area is an intrinsic part of the work, and not a frame as such.

The artist made the striped design of the major area of the picture deliberately schematic, intending it as an ironical comment on the frequent recurrence of this theme in avant-garde painting of the period, both British and American. Among American artists, he remembers being particularly aware in this connection of Ellsworth Kelly. Artists who directly influenced the development of his work at this date included Robert Rauschenberg, in relation both to multiple images and assemblage technique, and Jasper Johns (whose work, like Kelly's, was also concerned with simple heraldic configurations of the type Blake was commenting on). Other paintings of this period by Blake develop different elementary abstract forms in the same ironical vein—for example targets (e.g. ‘The First Real Target?’ 1961, coll. E J Power), diagonal stripes (e.g. ‘Everly Wall’ 1959, coll. T K Blake), and chevrons (e.g. ‘Got a Girl’ 1960–61, coll. Peter Stuyvesant Foundation). The divisions between the stripes were clean and clear-cut not only as a conscious comment on hard-edge painting but also (since not all stripe painting of the date was hard-edge) because Blake habitually worked in the simplest, most direct way possible.

T01174 does however evidence Blake's interest, stronger in 1959 than it has since become, in animation of surface texture. The retention of originally unintentional rough paint passages in otherwise smooth bands of colour, and of scratches and brushmarks here and there, was deliberate; the bands of colour even developed a loose and semi-contrived alternation between types of smoothness and of inflected handling. The most open assertion of the value of spontaneous gesture deriving from the purely practical use of materials occurs in the lowest (black) band, where Blake applied grey undercoat to the embedded heads of seventeen nails preparatory to painting them out with black, but then decided to leave the underpainting exposed.

Above the six flat painted bands of colour is a strip of painted wood in shallow relief which alternately reads as a seventh flat band, as a real piece of wood, and as a functional shelf. The device of using a wood strip to separate an abstract scheme from a series of images is common to much of Blake's work at this date and he developed it, in later works, as a literal platform for three-dimensional objects. Here, the alternating flat and illusionistic readings of the six postcard reproductions of works of art is consistent with the preoccupation in all Blake's work (including, for example, T00566, a painting of 1955–57) with the juxtaposition of diagrammatic and trompe l'oeil modes.

Blake did not go out to look for postcards to attach, but selected six from those in his personal collection; a further factor somewhat controlling the range of the selection was that he had recently returned from a travelling scholarship in Europe during which he had bought postcards in museums. From left to right the works reproduced, among which a loosely primitive quality was consciously a common factor, are by Fra Angelico, Memling, Indian artists (2) and Potter; the final card shows the Black Madonna in the Abbey of Montserrat, Catalonia. The artist considers that the fact that the Fra Angelico, like T01174 itself, contains a row of pictures within a picture, is purely coincidental at a conscious level, while the block of lettering in the third card from the left and the prominence of the painted border around the image of ‘Radha awaiting Krishna’ in the fourth are conscious reflections of his preoccupation with inserting one pictorial element in another.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1968-70, London 1970

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