Art and Music season at Pallant House celebrates Godfather of Pop Art Peter Blake

Ruth Hazard | 22 June 2012
The Beatles 1963-68
© the artist/ DACS 2012
Art and Music Season, Pallant House Gallery, Chichester, all exhibitions  until 7 October 2012

Peter Blake and Pop Music

At a dinner party in the 1950s Peter Blake, surrounded by his former Royal College contemporaries, was asked what he was working on. He explained that he wanted to make art that was an equivalent of pop music. After listening to the description his host, art crictic Lawrence Alloway suggested, “Like a Pop Art?”

Blake is credited as the founding father of British Pop Art, producing his iconic prints pre-Warhol, something the Head of Collections and Exhibitions at Pallant, Simon Martin, is at pains to point out.

Blake was brought up in Gravesend in a working class family, with interests in wrestling, speedway racing and jazz and he wanted to find a way to bring that life into the fine art world. This exhibition neatly charts Blake’s quest to bring these two, seemingly adverse, worlds together.

Music has always been at the core of his work, making him an apt and interesting choice for Pallant’s lead display. His love affair with the medium began at the age of 15, joining the Dartford Rhytmn Club and collecting vinyl records of his favourite artists; The Everley brothers, Chuck Berry and Sammy Davis Jr.

His early work pays homage to the musicians he admired, but also to the 'fan world’ of listening to and engaging with the music – a world that Blake was very much a part of.

“I wanted to make a painting of Elvis so the same girl who loved Presley’s music would like the picture,” he explained, and this motivation is evident throughout Pallant’s retrospective.

Self Portrait with Badges, 1961
© the artist/ DACS 2012
Blake’s Self Portrait with Badges, the John Moore’s prize winning piece that first brought him to public attention, shows the artist standing in his garden covered in pop band badges and gripping a copy of an Elvis fan magazine.

His tribute to Sammy Davis Junior is a series of paintings of the singer’s fans holding up his photographs. One collage piece includes a found pop star poster still bearing the traces of a lipstick kiss mark from a besotted female fan. His Beatles portrait has blank white spaces next to the faces, awaiting the band's’ autographs. Music shaped Blake’s life, and rather than presenting a detached portrayal of the subject he loves, he invites the audience to revel in it with him.

Over Blake’s career he moved from being a spectator of the music industry to working at the very heart of it. He was commissioned to create cover art for Paul Weller, Landscape, Steeleye Span and most famously, The Beatles.

His career defining design for the Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band sleeve was (at the time) the most expensive album cover ever made. The array of collaged figures were a selection of heroes and icons put forward by the Beatles, as well as Blake and his wife Jann, in keeping with the form of tribute-paying that had defined Blake’s early career. 

This theme was still at the heart of his work years later in 1995 when creating Weller’s Stanley Road album design. Blake asked Weller to select the images for the collage himself, based on people he had admired over his lifetime. The finished result includes shots of Weller’s mother, dad and sister, George Best and Aretha Franklin.

A strange thing has happened to Peter Blake. He has gone from idolising the music world, to being an idol of the music world – his commission to create the latest design of the Brit award, proudly on display at Pallant, shows the reverence he holds in the industry. What this exhibition manages to do so assuredly, is not just to highlight a great career, but offer an insight into the life of Peter Blake, pop music’s ultimate fan.

Derek Boshier: David Bowie and The Clash

A contemporary of Peter Blake, Boshier was another artist crossing the boundaries between the two worlds of art and music. One of his most famous collaborations was with David Bowie when the two came together to work on the falling man design for his Lodger album.

Boshier’s graphic illustrations are often the result of an extended case study where he produces a series of illustrations experimenting with the idea, building the final design into being. This makes for an interesting display, allowing visitors to see repeated images develop in new and interesting ways, understanding the method behind the artist’s vision.

Artist Pop Stars

Some of the most famous faces in the pop world actually trained as artists, making them perfect fare for Pallant’s exploration of the intersection of art and music. The gallery team has drawn together some unique examples of rarely seen work, many from private collections, including one of Pete Doherty’s Blood Portraits and Alison Goldfrapp starring as a murdered body in her photographic collaboration project with Anna Fox, Country Girl.

Also on display are pieces by Ian Drury of The Blockheads (a former student of Peter Blake), Bryan Ferry, John Lennon and Bill Wyman.

Prints of Darkness

Recalling the golden age of the record cover, Prints of Darkness features contemporary prints based on goth-surrealist vinyl sleeve art. Published by Edinburgh Printmakers, these designs have been acquired through the gallery’s Golder-Thompson gift, used solely for the purchase of contemporary Scottish art.

The designs range from the weird and wonderful, to comments on the political, providing a true cross section of the types of record covers that have filled shop shelves over the years.

  • Open:Tuesday- Saturday 10am- 5pm (Thursdays until 8pm), Sunday 11am-5pm, Closed Monday
  • Admission: Adult £9, Child £3.50, Student £5.50, Family £21.50

More pictures:

Peter Blake, Girls with Their Hero, 1959-62
© the artist/ DACS 2012

From Artists and Pop Stars, Ian Drury's Dany Bubbles, 1965-66
Prints of Darkness, 2010

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