Richard Hamilton

Just what is it that makes today’s homes so different?


In Tate Britain
Richard Hamilton 1922–2011
Digital print on paper
Support: 210 x 296 mm
frame: 408 x 500 x 25 mm
Presented by the British Broadcasting Corporation 1993


Just what is it that makes today’s homes so different? is a remake of an image Hamilton originally created in 1956 as part of his contribution to the group exhibition This is Tomorrow held at the Whitechapel Art Gallery in London. The collage Just what is it that makes today’s home’s so different, so appealing? (Kunsthalle Tübingen, Zundel Collection) featured in the catalogue and was also made into a poster. It is one of Hamilton’s most famous images and has become an icon of British Pop art (see Tate P78920 and P20271). In 1992 the BBC invited Hamilton to participate in a series of half-hour programmes entitled QED. His role, in a slot titled ‘Art and Chips’, was to demonstrate an artist’s use of a computer to generate art. He decided to recreate the experience of making the 1956 collage in a way that would be appropriate to the 1990s, remaking the image to reflect the contemporary era using a Quantel Paintbox he had recently purchased. He had begun using the Quantel Paintbox application in 1987 when contributing to a series of BBC films called Painting by Light in which six artists worked with operators to show developments in computer technology. Although he had no previous experience of digital collage on the Quantel Paintbox, he agreed to allow the BBC to film him as he learned. He recounted:

My learning curve was ... like a vertical wall ... Canon loaned a large copier which could also be used to print files sent to it from a computer. This was an ideal instrument to produce A4 proofs as my image developed. Looking for a subject, I turned to the old collage that seemed due for an update. It provided an opportunity to assess how life had changed since 1956, so the list of items I deemed of importance then would be a logical starting point: man, woman, humanity, history, food, newspapers, cinema, TV, telephone, comics, words, tape recording, cars, domestic appliances, space.

(Quoted in Painting by Numbers, p.11.)

Hamilton began his new digital collage by looking for an image of an interior in which to hold all the elements. He chose a postcard of a Spanish hotel bedroom that the artist Derek Boshier (born 1937) had sent to him many years previously as the basis for the structure of the room. After scanning the image and cutting and pasting to enlarge the space, Hamilton began to fill it with domestic objects and the two human figures. The images he selected are all topical. The wallpaper covering the room’s three walls is derived from a scan of a circuit board, emphasizing the arrival of the digital age. Two windows out of the room show scenes of war – a tank in a cloud of dust referring to the Gulf war of 1991; and a crowd of refugee Ethiopians, reflecting the fact that ‘Ethiopia, like many other African war-torn countries, is outside, its starving population finding nowhere to go’ (Hamilton quoted in Painting by Numbers, p.15). A small bust on a plinth next to the window opening on a tank is a caricature of Margaret Thatcher (British Prime Minister 1979-90) who encouraged the use of arms against Iraq after that country invaded Kuwait in 1990. It was created from a photograph of a squeaky toy rubber bust belonging to Hamilton’s dog Shem. Hamilton captioned it with the name of the American artist Jeff Koons (born 1955) in reference to Koons’s practice of turning kitsch ornaments into high value artworks. Next to the bust, a painting on the wall ironically exposes the failure of hippy utopianism by transforming the iconic ‘LOVE’ image created by American Pop artist, Robert Indiana (born 1928) in 1966, into the four-letter word ‘AIDS’. Hamilton derived this from a print by the Canadian artists’ group General Idea, who remade Indiana’s work in 1988 at the beginning of the AIDS crisis. In the centre of the room a white microwave on a white table sits next to a plate of dry fish-fingers; behind it, the film playing on the TV is The Lawnmower Man (1992, directed by Brett Leonard), a film about the making of a virtual reality movie. Above the microwave, the planet Jupiter hangs as a light fitting, in combined reference to the moon ceiling of the 1956 collage and a visit to the planet by the spacecraft Ulysses in 1992. It hangs above shelves of video cassettes and streamlined audio equipment.

In a humorous take on the dramatic shift in sexual identities and gender politics from the 1950 to the 1990s, Hamilton substituted the image of a flexing female body builder that he found in a magazine for the voluptuous lady sitting on the sofa in the original version. The lollipop she holds (traditionally used to stop traffic while children cross the road in England) reads ‘STOP – CHILDREN’, providing a comic antithesis to the phallic lollipop bearing the word ‘POP’ in the 1956 collage. Hamilton replaced the muscle-bound male body builder of 1956 with a photograph of a financier that he took himself in the City of London using a digital camera he had borrowed from Kodak. The 1992 Adam is hunched over a desk, his back to the viewer, surrounded by computer screens and telephones, ‘sitting at home with his computer networked to the money markets’ (Hamilton quoted in p.13) in reflection of a new growing trend as a result of developments in communications technology.

Hamilton produced Just what is it that makes today’s homes so different? in an edition of 5000 with fifty artist’s proofs. Tate’s copy is the fifth in an additional set of one hundred collaborator’s proofs. The edition was printed by Electronics for Imaging on A4 Mellotex paper using a Canon CLC 500 printer. The 5000 prints were donated by the British Broadcasting Corporation to viewers who contacted them to request a copy on a first come first serve basis. The remaining fifty prints were distributed by the BBC.

Further reading;
Richard Hamilton: New Technology and Printmaking, exhibition catalogue, Alan Cristea Gallery, London 1998, reproduced p.22 in colour.
Richard Hamilton: Painting by Numbers, exhibition catalogue, Alan Cristea Gallery, London 2006, pp.11-19, reproduced p.19 in colour.
A Bigger Splash: British Art from Tate 1960-2003, exhibition catalogue, Pavilhão Lucas Nogueira Garcez – Oca Parque Ibirapuera and Insituto Tomie Ohtake, São Paulo 2003, pp.94-109, reproduced p.95 in colour.

Elizabeth Manchester
June 2007



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