He is known as the “father of Pop Art”, the man whose White Album cover for The Beatles was the first not to use their likenesses and a man who more recently caused a stir with his political imagery of Tony Blair dressed like a cowboy.
But yesterday, after nearly half a century of groundbreaking creativity, Richard Hamilton’s long-running impact on the British art scene came to an end. His gallery confirmed he had died after a short illness. He was 89.
Hamilton was best-known for his 1956 collage ‘Just What Is It that Makes Today’s Homes So Different, So Appealing?’, featuring a body-builder holding a sign emblazoned with the word “pop”.
He was born in London in February 1922 and studied at the Royal Academy Schools – where he was expelled for not following teachers’ instructions – and the Slade School of Fine Art. He has since had retrospectives at institutions around the world, including the Tate Gallery in London in 1970 and 1992, and galleries in Barcelona and Cologne.
Hamilton was one of the group of artists associated with London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) in the early 1950s which went on to develop Pop Art, one of the most instantly-recognisable art movements since the Second World War. He designed The Beatles’ The White Album in 1968.
More recently, he became famous for political images as well as those which appropriated consumer culture for a high-art audience. His 2007-08 work ‘Shock and Awe’ showed Tony Blair wearing a cowboy shirt, with guns and holsters. Hamilton said he produced the piece after he saw Mr Blair “looking smug” after a conference with George Bush.
Fellow Pop Artist Peter Blake said: “The important thing is, when we were young artists he was one of the people who befriended us, looked after us, and was kind to us. That is something I have often talked of in the context of passing that on to younger people myself.
“He and I used to joke about both claiming to be the godfather of Pop Art. I feel sorrow, because I’ve known him since the mid-1950s. It’s another person gone from that generation who are 10 years older than me, they are becoming less and less and that’s very sad.”
Tate director Sir Nicholas Serota said: “Hamilton died as he would have wished, working to the end completing a work for his current exhibition in Ireland.”
Dealer Larry Gagosian said yesterday: “This is a very sad day for all of us and our thoughts are with Richard’s family, particularly his wife Rita and his son Rod.”
Hamilton was reported to have turned down a CBE.
“I remember going to see a Mantegna exhibition, he said. “I sat for half an hour in front of these wonderful paintings. There were no interruptions, not even a guard walking past.
“Now, that’s a reward.”
Rob Sharp, The Independent