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1922–2011 ➤ Richard Hamilton: second thoughts about his definition of Pop Art

Swingeing London 67,Richard Hamilton,  Tate,Robert Fraser  ,Mick Jagger

Swingeing London, a great modern history painting from the Swinging 60s: in the back of a police car on their way to court Hamilton’s art dealer Robert Fraser and Rolling Stone Mick Jagger sit shielding their faces against the media glare. The image is based on a press photograph published in the Daily Sketch and the title is deliberately spelt with an E, referring to the judge’s pronouncement on the “swingeing sentence” he handed down as a deterrent after both were convicted on drugs charges. For many, this occasion typified the moral backlash against the liberalisation of the 1960s. (Above, detail from Swingeing London 67 (f) 1968-69, acrylic, collage and aluminium on canvas © Richard Hamilton, in the Tate collection)

❚ “ RICHARD HAMILTON, the most influential British artist of the 20th century, has died aged 89. In his long, productive life he created the most important and enduring works of any British modern painter… Hamilton has a serious claim to be the inventor of pop art… Driven by intellect and political belief, Hamilton created undying icons of the modern world.”
➢ Read Jonathan Jones at The Guardian online


“ Pop Art is:
Popular (designed for a mass audience)
Transient (short-term solution)
Expendable (easily forgotten)
Low cost
Mass produced
Young (aimed at youth)
Big Business ”

❏ His definition appeared as part of a long rumination on post-war art in a letter to Peter and Alison Smithson, published online at Warholstars.org, but taken from The Collected Words 1953–1982 by Richard Hamilton (Thames & Hudson 1982)


➢ John Tusa interviewed Hamilton for Radio 3 — Listen and read the transcript at the BBC website

Richard Hamilton, pop art , painter, John Tusa, interview

Hamilton: a lesson learnt from Warhol

TUSA:“Your definition hasn’t, as you said, stood the test of time because pop art as we now know it and as it became, has ended up being anything but transient, expendable and commercial. It’s been in a way co-opted by the systems and the commercialism of the fine-art world itself.”

HAMILTON: “When I made that list I thought what are the characteristics of what we call pop art, and then I listed them, big business and so on; the record system, Hollywood and all the other things. Then I looked at this list that I had made, which had nothing to do with fine art or anything that I was painting or doing and said, is there anything in this list which is incompatible with fine art? And my answer was no, except for one thing and I said, Expendable. Now, is fine art expendable? And I thought, no; I can’t quite stomach that. Everything else, OK, but expendability as a throwaway attitude is not something that can be acceptable as pop art, and I was proved wrong. Warhol approached art from the point of view of expendability, so I admire him enormously for having brought my attention to the fact that I was wrong.”


❏ Hamilton’s Swingeing London series of paintings and prints were his response to the arrest of his art dealer Robert Fraser and his imprisonment for the possession of heroin. This followed the now fabled police raid on a party at the Sussex farmhouse of Keith Richards, of the rock group the Rolling Stones, in February 1967. There they found evidence of the consumption of various drugs and in June, Fraser and Mick Jagger (the band’s lead singer) were found guilty of the possession of illegal drugs. This gave rise to the sarcastic newspaper headline “A strong sweet smell of incense” which Hamilton incorporated into a huge collage of the resulting newspaper cuttings which he titled Swingeing London 67 — Poster.
➢ Read Keith Richards’ account of this raid and the truth about the infamous Mars bar

❏ Video above: This Is Tomorrow (1992), clip from a C4 television documentary by Mark James in which the Father of Pop Art Richard Hamilton talks about his time as a tutor to pop star Bryan Ferry at Newcastle University art school