Richard Hamilton: Word and Image: Prints 1963-2007

Williamson Art Gallery, Birkenhead, CH43
From 21st June 2014

Reviewed by April Cheetham

Following on from its highly successful Henry Moore exhibition, the Williamson Art Gallery in Birkenhead continues to impress with its latest offering, a selection of work from the 'Father of British Pop Art' Richard Hamilton. This is the first time that an exhibition of Hamilton's prints has been shown outside London, underlining the Williamson's commitment towards attracting dynamic and influential art to the gallery.

The exhibition features a 1991 print of Hamilton's most reproduced iconic image (right), Just what was it that made yesterday's homes, so different, so appealing? Originally a collage-based poster for the 1956 'This is Tomorrow' exhibition at the Whitechapel Art Gallery, it shows an unsettling jumble of some of the seductive consumer objects that had flooded into post-war Britain. It was at this exhibition that the term 'Pop' was first coined, with this well-known image widely acknowledged as the first example of British Pop Art.

Hamilton was one of the founding members of the Independent Group formed at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London. Comprising young British artists, designers, architects and critics, the group aimed to absorb everyday, domestic objects into the realms of art production, challenging traditional notions of what was considered appropriate subject matter for art. The Williamson's exhibition shows the many ways in which Hamilton sought to break down those barriers throughout his long career.

Digital Art can surely be viewed as Pop Art's natural successor. From the early 1970s, Hamilton used the most advanced computer technology available to digitally generate works, alter earlier ones and manipulate perspective. Highlights of Hamilton's mastery of this genre include the two self-portraits that flank an entrance in the gallery. Palindrome, 1974, a lenticular, laminated three dimensional print and A portrait of the artist by Francis Bacon, 1970-71, where Hamilton uses a rejected Polaroid taken by Bacon to develop a distorted self-portrait reminiscent of Bacon's own painting style. Indeed, Hamilton frequently alludes to other artists in his digital work, for example, he references Van Eyck's The Arnolfini Marriage in his 1998 print, The Marriage and his life-long interest in Marcel Duchamp is represented in A mirrorical return, 1998.

All the main phases of Hamilton's art practice are well represented here, ranging from screenprints of the 1960s to more recent digital prints, including Beatles, 2007, a reinterpretation of the collage originally sold with the Beatles' White Album. This exhibition has a broad appeal, certainly attracting those already familiar with Hamilton's complex oeuvre, but also offering a compelling insight into the origins and development of digital art technologies.

Presented with Barbican International Enterprises in partnership with the Alan Cristea Gallery.
Richard Hamilton Word and Image: Prints 1963-2007 opens at the Williamson Art Gallery on 21 June 2014.

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