First impression: that’s easy; jaw dropping! Richard Hamilton (b.1922-2011) is one of the most prominent and politicised British artists of the 20th century – he created the cover design and poster collage for the Beatles’ White Album, so he’s pretty important. We therefore felt rather privileged to see this exhibition, which he had been planning up until his death at the age of 89 last year. ‘The Late Works’, all created in the last decade of the artist’s life, were made specifically for the National Gallery. With them, he attempted to encapsulate the aura, grandeur and immense importance of such an establishment, combined with his distinct oeuvre.
The visual complexity of Hamilton’s work through the collage of numerous objects creates a layered meaning, which only he seems to master so well. In the work we see various themes: interior spaces, the nude female body, references to Old Master paintings – many of which are within the National Gallery’s collections – and Hamilton’s contemplation and musing of the early Dadaists, specifically Duchamp. Hamilton was and has been till the end, a true pioneer and one who indisputably held the foremost vanguard of the postmodernist movement. Up to the very end his technical innovations and digital virtuosity stuns even the most prominent workers of the digital era.
The setting of the National Gallery works as a theoretical as well as inspirational backdrop for Hamilton’s work, where much of his techniques are derived from. A prime example is the 15th century Renaissance laws of one-point linear representation, which Hamilton uses in a digital way, to create three-dimensional illusions, where we see spatially-logical spaces such as the Lobby of a Berlin hotel, subverted.
At the exhibition’s climax we are confronted by the perplexing ‘Le Chef-d’oeuvre inconnu’, a painting in three parts, which the artist spent the last year and a half of his life working on. It’s an ode to Balzac and his short story, ‘The unknown Masterpiece’, in which a painter goes crazy in his attempt to paint the perfect nude body – Hamilton exposes what critic, Michael Bracewell describes as the ‘allegory of frustrated desire that chimes with Hamilton’s career’.
In this exhibition which Hamilton himself guided from the first moment and on a daily basis, the curators and organisers must have had quite a challenge completing the project, but they’ve managed to do him justice. If you’re a big fan or know little to nothing about the grandfather of British pop art, this is a must-see.
The Late Works are on show until 13 January 2013. For more information [click here]
Words by Tefkros Iordanis Sophocleous Christou.