Peter Blake

The First Real Target


Not on display

Peter Blake born 1932
Enamel on canvas and paper on board
Support: 537 × 493 mm
frame: 810 × 770 × 70 mm
Purchased 1982

Display caption

This work refers to American pop artist Jasper Johns’s target paintings from the 1950s. Johns took the familia object, the target, and reproduced it on canvas. Blake has taken this further by using a real archery target purchased from a sports shop. The brushstrokes are not visible on the surface of the canvas. The work becomes less like a painting, and even closer to a real-world object. The title addresses the viewer and questions whether this makes Blake’s work the ‘first real target’?

Gallery label, January 2019

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Catalogue entry


Household gloss enamel on canvas and collage on hardboard 21 3/8 × 19 7/16 (537 × 493)
Inscribed ‘Peter Blake, “THE FIRST REAL TARGET”/June 1961’ on stretcher
Purchased from Waddington Galleries (Grant-in-Aid) 1982
Prov: Arthur Tooth and Sons 1962; E.J. Power 1962; Waddington Galleries 1972; private collection, London 1972; Waddington Galleries 1982
Exh: British painting and sculpture today and yesterday, Arthur Tooth and Sons, April 1962 (12, repr.); Peter Blake, Robert Fraser Gallery, October–November 1965; Peter Blake, City Art Gallery, Bristol, November–December 1969 (40, repr.); Peter Blake: Souvenirs and Samples, Waddington and Tooth Galleries, April–May 1977 (78, repr.); Peter Blake, Tate Gallery, February–March 1983 (33, repr.); Peter Blake, Kestner Gesellschaft, Hannover, April–June 1983 (25, repr.)
Lit: Mario Amaya, Pop as Art: A survey of the new super realism, 1965, p.34; Lawrence Alloway, ‘The Development of British Pop’, in Lucy Lippard, Pop Art, 1966, p.53, illus. 32, p.46; Roger Coleman, ‘Peter Blake's Nostalgia’, Art and Artists, IV, January 1970, p.31; Michael Compton, Pop Art, 1970, p.61, repr. p.65; Michael Compton, ‘Peter Blake’, Peter Blake exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, 1983, p.26, repr. p.83; Marina Vaizey, Peter Blake, 1986, p.24, pl.16

Painted during Peter Blake's period as a teacher at St Martin's School of Art (1960–2), ‘The First Real Target’ comments on the art of the time, and in particular on Jasper John's series of ‘Target’ Paintings, begun in the 1950s. Where Johns paints his target on to the canvas in a very ‘painterly’ way with visible brush-strokes loosely applied, Blake purchases his original Slazenger archery target from a sports shop. The surface of Blake's canvas is treated in such a way, without any obvious brushmarks, that it becomes less of a painting and more of a physical 3D object. Blake comments that his target is not therefore a ‘fine art’ piece as with Johns's, and his direct question asks that perhaps this makes it the ‘real’ one in art historical terms?

Blake involves his viewer not only through the joint knowledge they both share in the references to Jasper Johns, but in the ironical question with which he addresses his viewer.

The text is separated from the actual target it refers to by a batten, painted green. The small squares of wood with paper attached and letters printed on them are from Victorian word games. Blake, who has always been interested in lettering, collected and used such letters in his series of Wrestlers and Strippers. Here, the lettering is undamaged and easy to read, helping to give the statement greater impact. Furthermore the use of these toy letters ensures that the question remains light hearted. Blake maintains a strong appreciation for the work of Johns.

Blake has always publicly discussed art, using the medium of his exhibitions and the press to initiate debate. For his Tate retrospective exhibition in 1983 he published a booklet to accompany the catalogue including thoughts on his exhibition, as well as good and bad reviews. ‘The First Real Target’ is intended similarly to provoke comment.

This entry is based on a conversation with the artist on 2 May 1986, and is approved by him.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1982-84: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1986

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