Birth Name: Richard Hamilton
Born: 24 February 1922 Pimlico, London, England
Education: Royal Academy, Slade School of Art, University College London
Awards: World Print Council Award 1983, Britain representative Venice Biennale 1993
"Pop Art is: popular, transient, expendable, low-cost, mass-produced, young, witty, sexy, gimmicky, glamorous, and Big Business" Richard Hamilton, 1957
Richard Hamilton grew up in the Pimlico area of London. Having left school with no formal qualifications Hamilton got work as an apprentice working at an electrical components firm. Here he discovered an ability for draughtsmanship and began to do painting at evening classes at St Martin's School of Art which eventually led to his entry into the Royal Academy Schools. After spending the war working as a technical draftsman he re-enrolled at the Royal Academy Schools but was later expelled on grounds of "not profiting from the instruction", loss of his student status forcing Hamilton to carry out National Service.
After two years at the Slade School of Art, University College, London, Richard Hamilton began exhibiting at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) where he also produced posters and leaflets and teaching at the Central School of Art and Design.
Hamilton's early work was much influenced by D'Arcy Wentworth Thompson's 1913 text On Growth and Form. In 1952, at the first Independent Group meeting, held at the ICA, Hamilton was introduced to Eduardo Paolozzi's seminal presentation of collages produced in the late 1940s and early 1950s that are now considered to be the first standard bearers of Pop Art. Also in 1952, he was introduced to the Green Box notes of Marcel Duchamp through Roland Penrose, whom Hamilton had met at the ICA. At the ICA Hamilton was responsible for the design and installation of a number of exhibitions including one on James Joyce and The Wonder and the Horror of the Human Head that was curated by Penrose. It was also through Penrose that Hamilton met Victor Pasmore who gave him a teaching post based in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne which lasted until 1966. Among the students Hamilton tutored at Newcastle in this period were Rita Donagh, Mark Lancaster, Tim Head, Roxy Music founder Bryan Ferry and Ferry's visual collaborator Nicholas De Ville. Hamilton's influence can be found in the visual styling and approach of Roxy Music. The post also afforded Hamilton the time to further his research on Duchamp, which resulted in the 1960 publication of a typographic version of Duchamp's Green Box, which comprised Duchamp's original notes for the design and construction of his famous work The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even, also known as The Large Glass. Hamilton's 1955 exhibition of paintings at the Hanover Gallery were all in some form a homage to Duchamp. In the same year Hamilton organised the exhibition Man Machine Motion at the Hatton Gallery in Newcastle. Designed to look more like an advertising display than a conventional art exhibit the show prefigured Hamilton's contribution to the This Is Tomorrow exhibition in London, at the Whitechapel Gallery the following year. The work 'Just what is it that makes today's homes so different, so appealing?' was created in 1956 for the catalogue of This Is Tomorrow, where it was reproduced in black and white and also used in posters for the exhibit.
The success of This Is Tomorrow secured Hamilton further teaching assignments in particular at the Royal College of Art from 1957-61 where he promoted David Hockney and Peter Blake. During this period Hamilton was also very active in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and produced a work parodying the then leader of the Labour Party Hugh Gaitskell for rejecting a policy of unilateral nuclear disarmament. In the early 1960s he received a grant from the Arts Council to investigate the condition of the Kurt Schwitters 'Merzbau' in Cumbria. The research eventually resulted in Hamilton organising the preservation of the work by relocating it to the Hatton Gallery in the Newcastle University.
In 1962 his first wife Terry was killed in a car crash. In part to recover from this he travelled for the first time to the United States where, as well as meeting other leading Pop Artists, he was befriended by Marcel Duchamp. Arising from this Hamilton curated the first and to date only British retrospective of Duchamp's work, and his familiarity with The Green Box enabled Hamilton to make copies of The Large Glass and other glass works too fragile to travel. The exhibition was shown at the Tate Gallery in 1966.
From the mid-1960s, Hamilton was represented by Robert Fraser and even produced a series of prints entitled 'Swingeing London' based on Fraser's arrest along with Mick Jagger, for possession of drugs. This association with the 1960s Pop Music scene continued as Hamilton became friends with Paul McCartney, resulting in him producing the cover design and poster collage for the Beatles' White Album.
During the 1970s, Richard Hamilton enjoyed international acclaim with a number of major exhibitions being organised of his work. Hamilton had found a new companion in the painter Rita Donagh and together they set about converting North End, a farm in the Oxfordshire countryside, into a home and studios. Hamilton realised a series of projects that blurred the boundaries between artwork and product design including a painting that incorporated a state-of-the-art radio receiver and the casing of a Diab Computer. In 1977-8 Hamilton undertook a series of collaborations with the artist Dieter Roth that also blurred the definitions of the artist as sole author of their work. Since the late 1940s Richard Hamilton has been engaged with a project to produce a suite of illustrations for James Joyce's Ulysses. Associated with this, in 1981 Hamilton began work on a trilogy of paintings based on the conflicts in Northern Ireland after watching a television documentary about the protest organised by IRA prisoners in Long Kesh Prison, unofficially known as The Maze. The citizen (1981-3) shows IRA prisoner Bobby Sands from Belfast's Short Strand republican enclave. He is portrayed as Jesus, with long flowing hair and a beard. Republican prisoners had refused to wear prison uniforms, claiming that they were political prisoners. Prison officers refused to let "the blanket protesters" use the toilets unless they wore prison uniforms. The republican prisoners refused, and instead smeared the excrement on the wall of their cells.
Hamilton explained (in the catalogue to his Tate Gallery exhibition, 1992), that he saw the image of "the blanket man as a public relations contrivance of enormous efficacy. It had the moral conviction of a religious icon and the persuasiveness of the advertising man's dream soap commercial - yet it was a present reality". The subject (1988-9) shows an Orangeman, a member of an order dedicated to preserve Unionism in Northern Ireland. The state (1993) shows a British soldier undertaking solitary patrol on a street. Critical responses to the works have been divided with those both on the political left and right accusing Hamilton of naïveté. The citizen was first exhibited alongside an installation of Rita Donnagh's drawings about the Maze.
During the 1980s Hamilton also voyaged into industrial design and designed two computer exteriors: OHIO computer prototype (for a Swedish firm named Isotron, 1984) and DIAB DS-101 (for Dataindustrier AB, 1986). As part of a television project Hamilton was introduced to the Quantel Paintbox and has since used this or similar devices to produce and modify his work.
In 1992, the Tate Gallery in London organised a major retrospective of Hamilton's career with an accompanying catalogue which provides the most comprehensive review of his career.
In 1993 Hamilton represented Great Britain at the Venice Biennale and was awarded the Golden Lion.
His definition of Pop Art from a letter to the Smithsons dated 16 January 1957 was - "Pop Art is: popular, transient, expendable, low-cost, mass-produced, young, witty, sexy, gimmicky, glamorous, and Big Business" - stressing its everyday, commonplace values.
Hamilton is also known as a prolific and groundbreaking printmaker. Since making his first print in 1939, his graphic work has consistently pushed the boundaries of how prints and multiples are made. These works are shown by the Alan Cristea Gallery in London.
In February 2002, the British Museum staged an exhibition of Hamilton's illustrations of James Joyce's Ulysses, entitled Imaging Ulysses. A book of Hamilton's illustrations was published simultaneously, with text by Stephen Coppel. In the book, Hamilton explained that the idea of illustrating this complex, experimental novel occurred to him when he was doing his National Service in 1947. His first preliminary sketches were made while at the Slade School of Art, and he continued to refine and re-work the images over the next 50 years. Hamilton felt his re-working of the illustrations in many different media had produced a visual effect analogous to Joyce's verbal techniques. The Ulysses illustrations were subsequently exhibited at the Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin, and the Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, Rotterdam. The British Museum exhibition coincided with both the 80th anniversary of the publication of Joyce's novel, and Richard Hamilton's 80th birthday.
The Tate Gallery now has a comprehensive collection of Hamilton's work from across his career.
Richard Hamilton lives and works in London.