Richard Hamilton

The Richard Hamilton retrospective now on at Tate Modern is an opportunity to assess the achievement of this important British artist.


‘Just what is it that makes today’s home so different, so appealing?’ is Richard Hamilton’s most famous work. This small collage of cut out and pasted images from American Magazines of the period was a collaborative venture made for the catalogue of the exhibition ‘This is Tomorrow’ at the Whitechapel Art Gallery in 1956. The effect of this exhibition was to give a shift in direction in British Art away from the art movements of the period – the ‘Kitchen Sink School’, ‘Geometry of Fear’, Euston Road, and Constructivist Abstraction towards one with a more pop art sensibility. Indeed the word POP first appeared in the Hamilton’s Collage (on the muscleman’s lollypop stick) and he defined the term in a letter of 1957 as being – Popular, transient, expendable, low cost, mass produced, young, witty, sexy, gimmicky, glamorous and Big Business.

His early training as a technical draughtsman combined with his time as a student at the Royal Academy and the Slade school of Art was to be important in his career, as was his time teaching on then new Basic Course at Newcastle upon Tyne. Influenced by the teaching at the Bauhaus, this experimental Foundation Course was to become standard educational practice in art schools throughout the country. He helped organise exhibitions at the ICA as well as teaching at the Royal College of art where alongside Peter Blake he inspired the students who went on to develop the English Pop Art movement. He made contact in America with artists such as Roy Lichtenstein and he met and became an early advocate of the work of Marcel Duchamp.

For me, what the exhibition reveals is that Hamilton was at the peak of his creativity during the 1960’s and that paintings such as ‘Hommage à Chrysler Corp’, ‘Interior II’, ‘$he’ and ‘I’m dreaming of a black Christmas’ stand out as definitive examples of his work and they also tend to be the ones most frequently reproduced.

His friendship with Duchamp lead him to make a reproduction of the ‘Large Glass‘ for an exhibition of Duchamp’s work at the Tate Gallery in 1966 and here his technical drawing abilities were put into good use. It is one thing admiring the intellectual gymnastics of the master of conceptualism and another to try to emulate his achievements. Artists out of necessity want to develop their creativity but Hamilton’s 1970’s paintings ‘Shit and Flowers’ produced the weakest of his work and his modern history paintings about Iran and the Irish Troubles although resulting in a powerful painting such as ‘The Citizen‘ was not sustainable, the outcome being perhaps too close to propaganda. Instead he returned to his concern with the ‘Interior’ a theme with great art historical significance and used it in a contemporary way through installation. His interest in new materials and print making processes saw him creating cibachrome prints applied to canvas. His last work a triptych entitled ‘le chef d’oeuvre inconnu‘ based on a Balzac short story ‘The Unknown Masterpiece’ uses this method to create a computer generated homage on the theme of the reclining nude watched over by Photoshoped past masters of the genre – Poussin, Courbet and Titian . Whether or not this has been devised, as an enigmatic work in emulation of Duchamp is uncertain.

Time itself will deliver the final verdict on Hamilton’s complete oeuvre but his place in the history of development of Pop Art is secure.

Tutors Angela Rogers and Gerald Deslandes will lead a study visit on Saturady 17 May. Places are free to OCA students, to book please email


  1. Peter Haveland 25 March 2014 at 10:32 pm

    Can I suggest going on from there to the ICA’s Hamilton exhibition (if it is still on)…it could easily be a show by one of today’s best artists rather than a recreation of one from many years ago?

    1. James Cowan 26 March 2014 at 9:34 am

      The Richard Hamilton exhibition at the ICA unfortunately ends on the 6th April.There seems to be two installations on view – a collaboration with Victor Passmore called The Exhibit (1957) and a recreation of Man ,Machine and Motion (1955) which from the ICA’s photograph looks very interesting. Both demonstrates his range of interests and influences at the time and for students interested in his work, an exhibition well worth going to before the study visit.

      1. Peter Haveland 26 March 2014 at 10:28 pm

        I was at the ICA a couple of weeks back and found the shows remarkably fresh…if you can get there before it closes, go!

  2. Richard Liley 31 March 2014 at 8:27 am

    Hamilton actually continued working on ‘The shit and flowers’ series of works culminating in ”soft blue landscape and soft pink landscape’ and an advertisement for Andrex until 1980. I had the privilege of working with him in the summer of 1980 helping him complete this series. We worked in the empty first year studios at Reading University and I helped with the placing of the toilet roll within mock ups and Richard took photographs and polaroids. He was also using the printmaking facilities at the University. I think he was there because his wife, Rita Donagh had just finished a teaching stint at the University and there were also close ties with Mali Morris(his ex-student) who was also teaching there.Richard taught me aspects of the dye transfer process which i still use today.


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