The Fine Art Society is a gallery situated in London’s fashionable Bond Street and it is here that Peter Blake, the Grandfather of British Pop Art, has put together a selection of paintings and prints that reflect his tastes and influences. Famous for his part in the design of the Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper Album, Blake celebrates his 80th birthday this year with this selection of over 100 artworks that range from Victorian art to that of the present day.
As a student he first attended Gravesend Technical College to study Commercial Art (as graphic design was then called), before going on to the Royal College of Art in 1953 to study painting. You would expect then that his choice of work would include his fellow protagonists in the Pop Arts arena with examples of work from those early days of the 1960s. Films of the period such as Ken Russell’s ‘Pop goes the Easel’ (1962) show Blake dancing the night away with fellow students Pauline Boty, Peter Phillips and David Hockney. It was this exuberance of youth and originality in his use of fairground and popular culture that was to establish Blake’s career. There is however a distinct lack of Pop Art inspired work in the show.
Having trained in the figurative tradition of the time and being himself an excellent exponent of painting – as his seminal work ‘Self Portrait with Badges’ (1961) demonstrates – the work that Blake chooses to show instead reflects an older tradition. It includes work by his teachers Carlyon Smedley (1900-1963), an early influence from Gravesend, and also by the much better known Edward Bawden (1903-89) who taught illustration at the Royal College of Art. A commercial illustrator who worked in a variety of media, it is Bawden’s linocuts that stand out as his most successful pictures and it is in this often-disparaged medium that he finds a perfect vehicle for his subject matter. ‘Brighton Pier’ (1958) is a good example, while the ‘Road to Thaxted’ (1956) with its rural idyll of milk churns and a policeman on a bicycle passing a thatched cottage would soon be swept aside with the more cosmopolitan concerns of the Pop Art generation.
Prints stand out well in the show and Blake has chosen well with Sickert (1860-1942), Robin Tanner (1904 – 1988) and Gerald Brockhurst (1890-1978) among others. The later was a society painter and etcher today best known for his prints of beautiful women which Blake collects because he is “…mesmerised by the sheer skill of them.” Brockhurst’s best-known work is ‘Adolescence’ (1932) a portrait of his mistress, which is considered a masterpiece of the etching process.
Printmaking is a popular activity and still survives in this digital age, but for those enthralled by commuter-generated imagery Rob and Nick Carter’s ‘RN882 Transforming Still Life Painting ‘ is the one to see. Based on a painting by Ambrosius Boschaart the Elder, ‘Vase with flowers in a Window ‘(1618) this digitally rendered painting is a ‘three hour looped film, frame and Apple Mac’ in an edition of 12. It takes the viewer over a period of time from the darkness of morning to the view at midday of the original picture and then onto nightfall.
As artists reach their peak and are then forgotten as fashion moves on, it is important to be reminded of the quality of the work they produced in their hey day. As the Beatles might have said:
“…They’ve been going in and out of style
But they’re guaranteed to raise a smile.
So may I introduce to you”
Artists such as – Algenon Newton, J.E Southhall, Malcolm Drummond, Mary Potter , Mabel Pryde, Spencer Gore, Stanley Badmin and many more. All the artists included in this exhibition have been Peter Blake’s influences and are those that still inspire him today.