Throughout this period, many British artists were conscious of the threat of violence around the world which had led to a rise in protest movements, in particular the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. Artists such as Richard Hamilton, Colin Self and Joe Tilson, raised awareness of political issues whilst continuing to develop new techniques that defined the Pop art movement.

In 1968 the wave of international protest, at its height in Paris, sparked sympathetic outbursts in British colleges and universities. Photographers such as Don McCullin raised public awareness of the severity of the Vietnam War, while Roger Mayne, Lewis Morley and Michael Cooper captured seminal protest events at home.

Colin Self, ‘Leopardskin Nuclear Bomber No. 2’ 1963
Colin Self
Leopardskin Nuclear Bomber No. 2 1963
© Colin Self. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2021

Leopardskin Nuclear Bomber No 2 combines the imagery of a predatory beast - the leopard - with nuclear weaponry. The sculpture exemplifies the mood of anxiety in Self’s work of the early 1960s. The association between nuclear and animal aggression illustrates Self’s belief that self-destructive forces govern human behaviour. Sexual aggression is also referred to by the overtly phallic pink fuselage of the plane. 

The theme of this multi-layered painting is the murder in 1919 of the Jewish agitator and theoretician Rosa Luxemburg. She was killed by those opposed to the revolutionary movement that swept Germany in the wake of the First World War. Both of Kitaj’s grandmothers, one of whom appears at top left, were refugees and for him Luxemburg stood for a long history of anti-semitic murders.

R.B. Kitaj, ‘The Murder of Rosa Luxemburg’ 1960
R.B. Kitaj
The Murder of Rosa Luxemburg 1960
© The estate of R. B. Kitaj

Transparency I: Yuri Gagarin 12 April 1961 highlights how political figures such as the Russian Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became instantly recognisable media celebrities. Tilson uses the format of a blown-up Ektachrome to frame found media images of this foreign icon. 

Joe Tilson, ‘Transparency I: Yuri Gagarin 12 April 1961’ 1968
Joe Tilson
Transparency I: Yuri Gagarin 12 April 1961 1968
© Joe Tilson. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2021

This work uses Hamilton’s signature technique of combining found elements from advertising and media. The idea for the painting came from an article on male fashion in Playboy magazine. It also alludes to the ‘Space Race’ between the USSR and the USA, at its height under President Kennedy.

Richard Hamilton, ‘Towards a definitive statement on the coming trends in menswear and accessories (a)  Together let us explore the stars ’ 1962
Richard Hamilton
Towards a definitive statement on the coming trends in menswear and accessories (a) Together let us explore the stars 1962
© The estate of Richard Hamilton