A highly influential and original artist, Peter Blake is often described as the godfather of British Pop art. The Tate Liverpool exhibition will survey his rich and diverse oeuvre, presenting familiar works alongside other rarely-seen ones. This exhibition will focus on Blake’s two-dimensional work and in particular painting, from the 1950s to the present day. The show will include major iconic works such as On the Balcony (1955-57), Self-Portrait with Badges (1961), The Toy Shop (1962), The Beatles (1963-68) and ‘The Meeting’ or ‘Have a Nice Day, Mr Hockney’ (1981-83). It will conclude with recent works, such as the Marcel Duchamp World Tour, a project which has occupied the artist for the last decade.
At the core of Blake’s work has been his fascination with popular culture, including music, film and sports. A prolific artist, he has worked in a variety of media including painting, drawing, printmaking, illustration, collage and sculpture. During the late 1950s and early 1960s Blake became one of the best-known British Pop artists. He defined a specifically British pop aesthetic and, has on several occasions, seamlessly blended his work with popular culture itself, the best known examples being his cover for the Beatles album Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and the recent cover design for Stop the Clocks by Oasis.
In 1969 Blake moved to Avon favouring, albeit temporarily, a rural over an urban setting for his studio. Although at times frustrated by the solitude of country living, Blake’s new setting fuelled a change of direction in his work, together with an interest in the Victorian imagination, fairies and the idealised vision of eternal childhood. In 1975 he co-founded the Brotherhood of Ruralists, a small group of artists whose paintings combined a fascination in the elements of nature with musical and literary influences.
Blake returned to London in 1979 shortly before visiting Los Angeles, a trip that had a profound impact upon him and inspired several new paintings, some of which were included in a specially decorated room in the 1983 Tate retrospective. Two such paintings, ‘The Meeting’ or ‘Have a Nice Day Mr Hockney’ 1981-3 and A Remembered Moment in Venice, California 1981-3 demonstrated his exceptional skills as a realist painter. Throughout the 1980s and 90s he continued to pursue his interests in contemporary popular culture and completed numerous portraits of stars from the worlds of music and film. The major Pop Art exhibition at the Royal Academy in 1991 bought him back into public consciousness and introduced his work to a new generation of British artists including Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin. Emin herself appears in Marcel Duchamp’s World Tour: Playing Chess with Tracey from the series of paintings based on Blake’s belief that wherever Duchamp stops (even posthumously) he has a profound effect upon the artworld.
In 2000, Peter Blake curated the exhibition About Collage at Tate Liverpool which drew on his own, and Tate’s, collections to reveal the radical and far-reaching impact of collage on 20th-century art.
During the late 1950s, Blake became one of the best known British pop artists. His paintings from this time included imagery from advertisements, music hall entertainment, and wrestlers, often including collaged elements. Blake was included in group exhibitions at the Institute of Contemporary Arts and had his first one person exhibitions in 1960. It was with the “Young Contemporaries” exhibition of 1961 where he was exhibited alongside David Hockney and R.B. Kitaj that he was first identified with the emerging British Pop Art movement. Blake won the (1961) John Moores junior award for his work Self Portrait with Badges. He first came to wider public attention when, along with Pauline Boty, Derek Boshier and Peter Phillips, he featured in Ken Russell’s film on pop art, Pop Goes the Easel, which was broadcast on BBC television in 1962. From 1963 Blake was represented by Robert Fraser which placed him at the centre of swinging London and brought him into contact with leading figures of popular culture.
Blake also often directly referred to the work of other artists. On the Balcony (1955-57) has Edouard Manet’s The Balcony being held by a boy on the left of the composition, and The First Real Target (1961) is a standard archery target with the title written across the top as a play on the paintings of targets by Kenneth Noland and Jasper Johns.
Blake also painted several notable album sleeves. As well as the sleeve for Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which he designed with his then-wife Jann Haworth, Blake also made sleeves for the Band Aid single, Do They Know It’s Christmas? (1984), Paul Weller’s Stanley Road (1995) and the Ian Dury tribute album Brand New Boots and Panties (2001. (Blake had been Dury’s tutor at the Royal College of Art in the mid-60s). He also designed the sleeve for The Who’s Face Dances (1981), which features portraits of the band by a number of artists.
In the early 1970s, he made a set of watercolors to illustrate Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass and in 1975 was a founder of the Brotherhood of Ruralists.
Blake was made a Royal Academician in 1981, and a CBE in 1983. “A major retrospective of Blake’s work was held in the Tate in 1983…(and) in 2002 Blake was awarded a knighthood for his services to art.” In February 2005, the Sir Peter Blake Music Art Gallery, located in the School of Music, University of Leeds, was opened by the artist. The permanent exhibition features 17 examples of Blake’s album sleeve art, including the only public showing of a signed print of his famed Sgt. Pepper’s artwork. In June 2006, as The Who returned to play Leeds University 36 years after recording their seminal Live at Leeds album there in 1970, Blake unveiled a new Live at Leeds 2 artwork to commemorate the event. Both the artist and The Who’s Pete Townshend signed an edition which will join the gallery’s collection.
More recently, Blake has created Artist’s editions for the opening of the Pallant House Gallery which houses collections that include some of his most famous paintings. These works are homages to his earlier work on the Stanley Road album cover and Babe Rainbow prints.
In 2006, Blake designed the cover for Oasis greatest hits album Stop the Clocks. According to Blake, he chose all of the objects in the picture at random, but the sleeves of Sgt. Pepper’s and Definitely Maybe were in the back of his mind. He claims, “It’s using the mystery of Definitely Maybe and running away with it.” Familiar cultural icons which can be seen on the cover include Dorothy from Wizard of Oz, Michael Caine (replacing the original image of Marilyn Monroe, which couldn’t be used for legal reasons) and the seven dwarfs from Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs.
Blake also revealed that the final cover wasn’t the original one. That design featured an image of the shop Granny Takes A Trip on the Kings Road in Chelsea, London.
Blake created an updated version of Sgt. Pepper — with famous figures from Liverpool history — as part of the successful campaign for Liverpool to become European Capital of Culture 2008, and is creating a series of prints to celebrate Liverpool’s status.