17 May 2014

Catching up with Richard Hamilton

The retrospective at Tate Modern runs only till 26 May, which is soon - so after seeing Ruin Lust at Tate Britain, I took the Tate-to-Tate riverboat and caught the Hamilton.

18 rooms and only two chances to sit down! Lots to see - and think about. I liked the spaciousness and restrained colours of the early paintings, eg Refraction -

and Out and Up, a study for a painting that was too large for him to store, so he destroyed it -

also - after all those weeks of the Portraiture course - his portrait of  Hugh Gaitskell (1963) -
Says the Guardian review of the 2010 show at the Serpentine: "his Portrait of Hugh Gaitskell as a Famous Monster of Filmland is a tremendous coinage, a hybrid of collage and painting, comedy and fear, with its prissy little mouth and protruding sci-fi eyeball."

Tate has another version, not in the show -

I was bemused to read, in the catalogue of Guggenheim museum's 1973 Hamilton show (on the Internet Archive):
"He grew up in an England that is almost as remote from us today as is the England of Charles Dickens: an England characterized by stratified inequalities - of money, of opportunity, of social endowment - which would now be  unthinkable."  Plus ca change....

Enlarging photos of people till the people were just blobs, "illegible and degraded", was new in the 60s... it became something you did with photocopiers, which were new technology then. The People Multiple started with a large, distant photo of a beach scene; the central section was enlarged, as was each section below that; they all cascaded downward until, on a small plinth, rested an image with a few blobs, representing groups from the original scene.
People (1968) (via)
Says Hamilton: "This is one of a series of explorations into the breaking point in legibility of a photographic image degraded by enlargement. Photographs such as this heavily populated beach in the north of England show a random sample of humanity. When broken down and analysed it provides an incredible amount of information about the individuals and their activity. There is, however, a breaking point, a place where the grain of the emulsion is too large to absorb the imprint of the form. It was a search for this moment of loss that became the true subject of the series, and the print is perhaps the best expression of this endeavour."

Whitley Bay (1965) is similar ... but different ...

Hamilton's Duchamp work mystifies me, but I admire the effort put into the reconstruction of the Large Glass, which took over a year, starting from first principles - and later the "typotranslation" of the White Box notes.
Large Glass (re-created 1966)
Being able to walk round the reconstruction of the hotel lobby  - a mundane interior with several vanishing points, mirrored reflections, and two flights of stairs ... homage to Duchamp's "Nude Descending a Staircase" - was given an added frisson by the tall warder who stood stoicly against one wall. (To replace the vase of flowers, perhaps?) 
Looking at "Lobby" (via)
Not to forget the Polaroid portraits of Hamilton taken by his friends and acquaintances over the years - an entire wall full -
some of the polaroids (via)
each reflecting the personality of the photographer more than of the sitter. "Francis Bacon's Polaroid portrait of hamilton intrigued him because the blurs and poor lighting led to an image that recalled the appearance of Bacon's paintings. Transforming one to a collotype print, Hamilton asked Bacon to paint some marks on it, but when this could not happen, he tried to learn to paint a brushstroke like Bacon: this led to the series Portrait of the artist by Francis Bacon." (from the exhibition guide)
The "Fashion plate" series involved a photograph of a photography set-up, and then collaging the "model" onto/into that - 
Similarly, for the "7 rooms" series (1994), he photographed the gallery walls, then digitally juxtaposed  photographs of the interiors of his home, the group of seven rooms developing into the portrait of a house. After it was recreated in Kassel in 1997, he became interested in populating the empty interiors with photographs of his wife and a friend - the resulting A Host of Angels premiered in 2007 -
It's poignant that at the age of 89 he produced an image in which three figures - Titian, Poussin, and Courbet - stand over a reclining nude; unfinished, The Unknown Masterpiece is his last work -

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