Peter Blake

The Toy Shop


Not on display

Peter Blake born 1932
Wood, glass, paper, plastic, fabric and other materials
Displayed: 1568 × 1940 × 340 mm
Purchased 1970

Display caption

Blake was interested in a wide range of cultural forms, from high art to pop music and children’s toys. Like many young ‘Pop’ artists of the time he was fascinated by American popular culture, such as denim jeans and the music of Elvis, which arrived in Britain in the late 1950s.

Alongside this, Blake retained a strong interest in English popular culture. His work suggests a sense of nostalgia for the paraphernalia of his childhood. Blake collected old toys and related imagery; this piece developed as both a work of art and a store for his collection of objects.

Gallery label, April 2005

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Catalogue entry

T01175 TOY SHOP 1962
Inscribed on reverse ‘Peter Blake “Toy Shop” 1962.’
Assemblage, 61¾×76⅜×13⅜ (157×194×34).
Purchased from the artist (Grant-in-Aid) 1970.
Exh: Portal Gallery, 1962; Royal Academy, 1965 (571); City Art Gallery, Bristol, November–December 1969 (38, repr.).
Repr: Royal Academy Illustrated, 1965, p. 14.

The artist told the compiler (conversation, 25 June 1970) that he conceived T01175 as at once a work of art and a practical solution to the problem of how to store safely (yet also display) some of the smallest items in his collection of toys and similar artefacts. As the items included were part of his collection he never intended to sell this work. The choice of toys is such a personal selection that it amounts to a type of self-portrait (a recurring theme of Blake's), reflecting both his interests and his activities (e.g. painting, in the palettes and brushes, and illusionism, in the mask). The selected items also repeatedly evoke ironic parallels, both formal and iconographic, with fine art of the 1950's and 1960's.

The door and window were bought by the artist at a demolition site in Chiswick. The ‘31’ and ‘No Bottles No Canvassers’ plaques were bought separately, and the porcelain door handle is the third, replacing earlier ones which were broken. The Union Jack, measuring 17½×9 inches, which hangs projecting at a right angle to the door and window, was a replacement in 1970 of a lost original, and denotes celebration.

The form of the assemblage simulates the street frontage of a toy shop and its window display, but the scale and presence of the work are calculated also to induce in some degree a sense of oddness and mystery. The door, originally that of a cupboard, is slightly below the natural scale for its purpose, and prompts also curiosity as to what lies beyond. Both door and window (recurring motifs in Blake's work of the early 1960's) intensify the spectator's sense of being outside looking in. In another work of the same period, ‘Window’ (coll: Robert Fraser Gallery) Blake aimed at compressing into the shallow space of six inches or so both the impedimenta and the sense of cosiness and privacy of a whole room, thus making unavoidable for the spectator sensations of mild embarrassment, intrusion and awkwardness of posture. Variations of these devices and emotions operate in T01175.

Between 1962 and 1970, the artist intermittently added to or altered the position of the elements of the assemblage and the sequence of colours of the fairy lights (which are intended to be lit when the work is seen.) He is now working on a fully three-dimensional personal museum of toys, principally large ones, in a room which it will be possible to enter. Despite the altered scale and format it is a development of the same idea underlying T01175.

The introduction, in the fairy lights, of artificial light into a traditional art form was paralleled by Blake's use of sound in ‘Got a Girl’ 1960–61 (coll: Peter Stuyvesant Foundation) which incorporates a record by The Four Preps intended to be played (though subsequently permanently fixed to the assemblage in error, not by the artist).

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

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