Peter Blake's Pop Art Alphabet At Hove Museum & Gallery

By Antonia Edwards | 24 July 2007
collage of photgraphs of Elvis Presley

K is for King. Courtesy Hove Museum and Art Gallery

Hove Museum and Art Gallery is presenting the work of Sir Peter Blake in a Hayward touring exhibition celebrating the artist’s 75th birthday this year.

Peter Blake: Alphabet (running until September 9 2007) comprises 26 bold and colourful silkscreen prints put together by the artist in 1991, each representing a letter from A to Z.

A graduate of the Royal College of Art in 1956, Sir Peter Blake played a key role in the British Pop Art scene of the 1960s. In 1969 he founded the Brotherhood of Ruralists which opted for a more traditional style of painting. Yet throughout his career he has maintained the playful quality of his earlier works.

Peter Blake: Alphabet could be perceived as a retrospective of his career as an artist, touching on many of the methods and subject matters that crop up throughout his early works to present day.

However, the show says more about the world he grew up in, what he was exposed to and what he thought of it. The simplistic format reads almost like an index of Blake’s interests and passions we can see that much of his inspiration was taken from a nostalgic view of his childhood as well as a fascination with popular culture.

print of a heart shape and the words I love you

H is for Heart. Courtesy Hove Museum and Art Gallery

The challenge of labelling a range of aesthetic subjects and ideas to fit neatly into logical alphabetical slots is highlighted by occasionally obvious choices; Y is for Yacht and Z is for Zebra, for example.

Some word/image combinations are easier to grasp as from the world of Blake than others. Icons such as K is for King (Elvis Presley) are certainly in line with Blake’s Pop Art tendencies. Others such as Love, Valentine and Nude sit in stark contrast to the rather obscure P is for Pachyderm (thick skinned mammal).

Many images are a personal reflection, to some extent echoing the themes covered in his artistic practice as a whole. T is for The Beatles harks back to the artist’s famous album cover Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club in 1967.

He also draws on Victoriana and distant eras: U is for Unusual People is quite an intriguing collection of postcards, depicting giants, dwarves and Siamese twins of circus freak shows.

Collage of a young girl in early 20th century dress with a bow in her hair behind a spray of flowers and the word girl

G is for Girl. Courtesy Hove Museum and Art Gallery

And not for Blake the conventional ordering of the alphabet – the orthodox is refuted in an ad hoc arrangement of the letters. Bearing in mind Blake’s random juxtaposition of the painted image, text, photograph and the found object this layout is also in tune with his penchant for collage.

Blake is a keen collector of numerous objects and ephemera such as postcards, badges and comics which he often painted. This aspect of his work is highlighted by the Museum’s decision to complement the Alphabet with objects from the Museum’s own toy, film and contemporary craft collections.

These items range from an old Esso chemical ‘Flit’ gun, used in cinemas for killing fleas and to improve the smell of the air, to works by other artists and makers such as 1990s jewellery by Cathy Harris. The exhibition has enabled the museum curators to display these things in an unconventional way, allowing visitors to see them in a new context.

There are notable gaps here in terms of the extent of Blake’s life and art; however, just as word association games provide insight into our inner thoughts, Peter Blake’s A to Z acts as an indirect self-portrait and is a good taster for those unfamiliar with his work.

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