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Richard Hamilton

British Pop collage artist and painter

Richard Hamilton Photo
Movements and Styles: Pop Art, British Pop Art

Born: February 24, 1922 - London, England

Died: September 13, 2011 - London, England

"It's not so easy to create a memorable image. Art is made through the sensibilities of an artist, and the kind of ambitions and intelligence, curiosity and inner direction that role requires."

Richard Hamilton Signature

Summary of Richard Hamilton

Richard Hamilton was the founder of Pop art and a visionary who outlined its aims and ideals. A lollipop from one of his early collages furnished the movement with its title. His visual juxtapositions from the 1950s were the first to capture the frenetic energy of television, and remind us of how strange the vacuum, tape recorder, and radio must have seemed for the first generations that experienced them. "Pop art" the British artist declared, would be: "Popular, transient, expendable, low-cost, mass-produced, young, witty, sexy, gimmicky, glamorous, and Big Business." While less of a household name than Andy Warhol, it was Hamilton who laid the groundwork for Pop art, and first defined its aims and ideals.

Key Ideas

Hamilton introduced the idea of the artist as an active consumer and contributor to mass culture. Up until then (especially in Abstract Expressionist circles) the prevailing view was that art should be separate from commerce. Hamilton gave other artists permission to consider all visual sources, especially those generated by the commercial sector. There is no more influential idea in art to this day.
For Hamilton, Pop art was not just a movement, but a way of life. It meant total immersion in popular culture: movies, television, magazines and music. As his alignment with the Rolling Stones and the Beatles (for whom he designed The White Album cover as a limited-edition print) demonstrates, he succeeded in bridging this gap between high art and consumer culture, paving the way for Andy Warhol, Studio 54, and the Velvet Underground.
With uncanny accuracy, his work seems to predict that of nearly every other major Pop artist. Details in "Just what is it that makes today's homes so different, so appealing?" in particular, read like a crystal ball containing Warhol, Lichtenstein, Wesselmann, and Oldenburg, before these artists' careers had developed. Of course, the reality was that all these artists were looking closely at his work, and used it to come up with their own ideas.
Hamilton reminds us that Pop art originated in England. He was among a group of young British artists, architects and critics who got together in the 1950s to discuss aspects of visual culture that weren't considered part of a traditional artist's training - cowboy movies, science fiction, billboards, and household appliances. Most of these were imports from America, which made them especially fascinating. Before coming up with Pop, the term they used for the movement was "the new brutalism" - more descriptive of the deliberate assault on general art themes and depictions that one finds in Hamilton's imagery.
Richard Hamilton Photo

Richard Hamilton was born into a working class family in Pimlico, London, where his father was a driver at a car dealership. As a child, Hamilton later recalled, "I suppose I was a misfit. I decided I was interested in drawing when I was 10. I saw a notice in the library advertising art classes. The teacher told me that he couldn't take me - these were adult classes, I was too young - but when he saw my drawing he told me that I might as well come back next week." A couple of years later, he remembers, he was producing "big charcoal drawings of the local down and outs." Although he never finished high school, Hamilton began attending evening art classes when he was 12 years old and was encouraged to apply to the Royal Academy. On the merit of these early pieces, he was accepted into the Royal Academy the age of 16. However, in 1940 the school shut because of the outbreak of World War II. Hamilton, too young to be enlisted to fight, spent the War making technical drawings.

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