Modern World

The Art of Richard Hamilton

Michael Bracewell

Richard Hamilton was one of the most influential artists of his generation. Often described as ‘the father of Pop art’, he produced multilayered work that explored and crystallized postwar consumer society and ‘pop’ culture in an attempt to ‘relate to everything that was going on in the world’. Seminal works such as his 1956 collage Just what is it that makes today’s homes so different, so appealing?, the 1965 painting My Marilyn, and screenprints based on a press photo of the arrest on drugs charges of Mick Jagger and Robert Fraser, Swingeing London 67, defined an era in which new commodities and technologies, mass media, and celebrity came to the fore, and challenged the hierarchical values of ‘high’ and ‘low’ art. His innovative work with installation and exhibition design continues to influence artistic and curatorial practice to this day; and his importance to fields beyond contemporary art was demonstrated when he designed the radical packaging of The Beatles’ ‘White Album’ in 1968. His ultimate commitment, however, was to the capacities of painting.

In this handsome book, acclaimed writer Michael Bracewell presents a concise introduction to this deeply complex artist. Writing from a personal perspective, he discusses Hamilton’s all-embracing work in relation to the music, film, and popular culture of the day in a rich and brilliant new interpretation of his art and ideas. He covers the full scope of the artist’s practice, including examples from the various media in which he worked – collage, print, painting, drawing, sculpture, photography, and installation – and the diverse subjects that he addressed until his death in 2011. Bracewell focuses on key works such as the My Marilyn and Swingeing London 67 series; images produced in response to highly charged current events and political and sociological developments, including Kent State and The Citizen; and collages, prints, and paintings that examine the fashion and advertising industries. He also considers Hamilton’s illustrations to James Joyce’s novel Ulysses, his collaborations with Marcel Duchamp, his work with The Beatles, and the significance of his apparently unfinished final work, itself a quest for a state of ‘perfection’ in oil painting. With quotes from the artist’s writings and interviews throughout, this attractive volume will appeal to anyone wanting to understand Hamilton’s iconic and pioneering work and its lasting cultural legacy.

Michael Bracewell is the author of six novels and two works of non-fiction, including the novellas The Crypto-Amnesia Club (1988) and Perfect Tense (1999). He has written widely on modern and contemporary art and contributed to catalogues for museum exhibitions of Richard Hamilton’s work, including at the Serpentine Gallery, London (2010) and the National Gallery, London (2012). A collection of Bracewell’s writings on art, The Space Between, was published in 2011.