Biography of Richard Hamilton, English Pop Art Pioneer

richard hamilton
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Richard William Hamilton (February 24, 1922 - September 13, 2011) was an English painter and collage artist best-known as the father of the Pop Art movement. He started the crucial elements that defined the style and laid the groundwork for future significant figures like Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol.

Fast Facts: Richard Hamilton

  • Occupation: Painter and collage artist
  • Born: February 24, 1922 in London, England
  • Died: September 13, 2011 in London, England
  • Spouses: Terry O'Reilly (died 1962), Rita Donagh
  • Children: Dominy and Roderic
  • Selected Works: "Just what is it that makes today's homes so different, so appealing?" (1956), "Towards a definitive statement on the coming trends in menswear and accessories" (1962), "Swingeing London" (1969)
  • Notable Quote: "It's not so easy to create a memorable image. Art is made through the sensibilities of an artist, and the kind of ambitions and intelligence, curiosity and inner direction that role requires."

Early Life and Education

Born into a working-class family in London, England, Richard Hamilton began attending evening art classes at age 12 and received encouragement to apply to the Royal Academy of the Arts. The academy accepted him into its programs at age 16, but he had to withdraw when the school shut down in 1940 due to World War II. Hamilton was too young to enlist in the military and spent the war years executing technical drawings.

Richard Hamilton returned to the Royal Academy when it reopened in 1946. Soon the school expelled him for "not profiting from the instruction" and failing to follow regulations. After acceptance into the Slade School of Art in 1948, Hamilton studied painting with artist William Coldstream. Less than two years later, he exhibited his work at the Institute for Contemporary Arts in London. His new friendships with fellow artists allowed him to be present at the 1952 meeting of the Independent Group where Eduardo Paolozzi showed collages with images from American magazine advertisements. They inspired Richard Hamilton to explore what soon became known as Pop Art.

richard hamilton
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British Pop Art

In the 1950s, Richard Hamilton began teaching art in various locations around London. In 1956, he helped define the "This Is Tomorrow" exhibit at the Whitechapel Gallery. Many consider the event the beginning of the British Pop Art movement. It included Hamilton's landmark piece "Just what is it that makes today's homes so different, so appealing?"

Following the acclaim surrounding "This Is Tomorrow," Hamilton accepted a teaching position at the Royal College of Art in London. David Hockney was among his students. In a 1957 letter, Hamilton stated that "Pop art is: popular, transient, expendable, low-cost, mass-produced, young, witty, sexy, gimmicky, glamorous, and Big Business."

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A personal tragedy took place in 1962 when Richard Hamilton's wife, Terry, died in a car accident. While mourning, he traveled to the U.S. and developed an interest in the work of conceptual art pioneer Marcel Duchamp. Hamilton met the legendary artist at a Pasadena retrospective, and they became friends.

Art and Music

In the 1960s, Richard Hamilton straddled the gap between pop music and contemporary art. Bryan Ferry, founder and lead vocalist of Roxy Music, was one of his dedicated students. Through his agent, Robert Fraser, Hamilton encountered other rock musicians like the Rolling Stones. A drug arrest of Fraser and Rolling Stones lead vocalist, Mick Jagger, is the subject of a series of 1969 Richard Hamilton prints titled Swingeing London. Hamilton also developed a friendship with Paul McCartney of The Beatles and designed the cover for the White Album in 1968.

"Swingeing London 67" (1969). Dan Kitwood / Getty Images

Late in his career, Hamilton explored working with new technology. He used television and computers. After the BBC asked him to take part in a television series titled "Painting With Light," he used Quantel Paintbox software to develop new works of art. It wasn't his first exploration of the interaction of modern technology and art. He used a stereophonic soundtrack and Polaroid camera demonstration as elements of his art lectures as early as 1959.

Legacy

Richard Hamilton is often credited as the father of Pop Art. His concepts and works influenced the movement in both the U.K. and the U.S. The piece "Just what is it that makes today's homes so different, so appealing" from 1956 is usually identified as the first true Pop Art piece. It is a collage using images cut out of American magazines. A contemporary muscleman and a female underwear model are perched in a modern living room surrounded by state-of-the-art technology and luxury items. The word "Pop" on a lollipop held by the muscleman like a tennis racket gave the title to the movement.

Hamilton's first work of Pop Art also includes elements that predict major directions in the movement. A painting on the back wall showing comic book art anticipates Roy Lichtenstein. A canned ham points toward the consumer art of Andy Warhol, and the oversized lollipop is reminiscent of the sculptures of Claes Oldenburg.

Sources

  • Sylvester, David. Richard Hamilton. Distributed Art, 1991.