Richard Hamilton

Swingeing London 67 - poster


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Richard Hamilton 1922–2011
Lithograph on paper
Image: 711 × 498 mm
frame: 875 × 630 × 30 mm
Presented by Rita Donagh 1978


Hamilton created Swingeing London 67 – poster in response to a commission by Edition ED912 in Milan, a distributor of art posters. The poster is one of a group of paintings and prints Hamilton made after his art dealer Robert Fraser (1937-86) was arrested and imprisoned for the possession of heroin. On 12 February 1967 the police raided a party at the Sussex farmhouse of Keith Richards, one of the members of the rock group, the Rolling Stones, where they found evidence of the consumption of various drugs. On 27 June 1967, Fraser and Mick Jagger (the band’s lead singer) were found guilty of the possession of illegal drugs. The following day the two men were handcuffed to each other and driven to court in a police van, where they were sentenced to six months and three months respectively. After the defence lawyer’s appeal, Jagger’s sentence was reduced to a fine but Fraser’s appeal was rejected and he spent four months behind bars in Wormwood Scrubs. Hamilton was outraged by the sequence of events and wrote:

I had felt a strong personal indignation at the insanity of legal institutions which could jail anyone for the offence of self-abuse with drugs. The sentence in the case of my friend Robert Fraser was blatantly not intended to help him through a sickness, it was to be a notorious example to others. As the judge declared ‘There are times when a swingeing sentence can act as a deterrent’. There were several moves towards the subject at the time of Robert’s arrest in 1967. Gradually, the sense of outrage subsided into quiet deliberations on the technical requirements of the expression of that anger.

(Quoted in Collected Words, p.104.)

During the months of Fraser’s imprisonment, his gallery was closed while an agency he normally employed to collect exhibition reviews also collected press cuttings documenting the trial, which had been given front-page coverage in the newspapers. Fraser’s secretary was happy to lend Hamilton the collection of press cuttings from which he made the collage on which the poster is based. Swingeing London 67 – source material (Daniela Palazzoli, Milan) combines newspaper cuttings with pieces of wrapping paper from an incense packet, a fragment from a Mars Bar wrapper and a section of a painting by the painter Bridget Riley (born 1931), who was also represented by Robert Fraser Gallery at that time. The page is dominated by the headlines ‘Stones: “A Strong, Sweet Smell of Incense”’, referring to the haze of incense smoke that greeted the police when they raided Richards’s house. While the prosecution assumed that incense was a cover for the smell of cannabis, Hamilton’s use of the headline subtly puns on the ‘incensed’ media frenzy and mystifying reports. Below the headline is a photograph of Fraser and Jagger trying to shield their faces from photographers as they are snapped, handcuffed together, in the police van on their way from jail to court. The original flash photograph was taken by a press photographer called John Twine and published in the Daily Sketch (29 June 1967). Hamilton used it as the basis for all the other works he made on this event, including the painting Swingeing London 67 (f) 1968-9 (T01144) and the prints Release 1972 (P04254), Release Stage Proofs (P02416-32) and Swingeing London III 1972 (P04255).

The press stories Hamilton included in his poster include such irrelevant and sensationalist facts as the clothes worn by the various band members as they attended court; the vehicles they arrived in; the food brought in from a hotel restaurant that Jagger and Fraser ate in prison; and the uninhibited presence of the singer Marianne Faithfull – Jagger’s girlfriend at the time – at the scene of the crime, naked except for a ‘fur-skin rug’. Opposite a photograph of the two men covering their faces in the van, pictures of the Rolling Stones’s fans, and in particular a close up picture of a crying woman captioned with the words ‘the agony of seeing your idols jailed’, emphasise the extreme to which the story was inflated by the press. Half-way down the right side of the page Hamilton included the title ‘The Swinging City’, referring to contemporary reports of London as a lively and liberal cultural centre. The magazine TIME had featured the words ‘London: The Swinging City’ on the cover of an issue the previous year (15 April 1966). Robert Fraser, nicknamed ‘Groovy Bob’, was one of the trendsetters of the 1960s in London, and his gallery was the focus of a scene that included artists, pop stars, writers, actors and other celebrities. Hamilton’s title is a pun on the notion of a swingeing punishment in a swinging city.

Swingeing London 67 – poster was printed by photo-offset lithograph from six plates by the artist and Sergio Tosi, Milan in two batches. 1000 copies were printed on Opaline machine-made wove stock and a further 1000 were printed on Fabriano paper. 1950 copies comprise the regular edition and are unsigned. The remaining fifty copies on Fabriano paper comprise the deluxe edition and are signed by the artist. A further fifty artist’s proofs on Fabriano paper are signed; some artist’s proofs on either stock were dedicated and signed by the artist. Tate’s copy is one of the 1000 copies printed on Opaline paper and is inscribed ‘Rita’s proof’. The edition was published by ED912 Edizioni di Cultura Contemporanea, Milan as part of their Manifesti series entitled ‘Situazione’. Hamilton’s print is number six in the ‘Situazione’ series.

Further reading:
Etienne Lullin, Richard Hamilton: Prints and Multiples 1939-2002, exhibition catalogue, Kunstmuseum Winterthur and Yale Center for British Art, New Haven 2003, pp.88-90, reproduced p.89 in colour.
Richard Hamilton, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1992, pp.166-8, reproduced p.166.
Richard Hamilton: Prints 1939-83, Stuttgart and London 1984, p.79, reproduced p.79.
Richard Hamilton: Collected Words 1953-1982, Stuttgart and London 1982, pp.104-5, reproduced p.105.

Elizabeth Manchester
October 2007

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