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By Paul Ruffell (Bigartspace user: lollypop)
7 May 2007
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Worthy of a visit to Tate Liverpool will be Peter Blake: A Retrospective (29th June - 23rd September 2007). This will be the largest retrospective exhibition of 'paintings' by the artist since his Tate Gallery exhibition in 1983.

He is quintessentially English, has a love of popular culture (people, places and things {intertwined with a mix of nostalgia and fantasy}) associated with the sixties, in the first instance, but continuing to this present day. Like many of his generation the artist was fascinated by American popular culture (including the music of Elvis Presley), which arrived in Britain in the late 1950's.

Peter Blake studied at Gravesend Technical College and School of Art from 1946 to 1951, and from 1953 at the Royal College of Art, London, where he was awarded a First-Class Diploma in 1956. He then traveled through Europe for a year on a Leverhulme Research Award to study the popular and folk art.

Often classified as a painter, he is an artist that utilises any media to suit the creative need of the moment. Peter Blake skillfully uses paint, collage, found objects and the technique of trompe l'oeil. His work celebrates, entertains and amuses with a theatre of personalities, objects and colour.

Tuesday Weld, a young screen actress who began her career in the early 1960's and became one of the sex symbols of her day is acknowledged in "Tuesday" 1961' (Tate Gallery).Two photographs of her are included at the top of this painting. Below a sequence of ready-made plastic letters spelling out 'Tuesday' are broad bands of red, yellow and blue referring to 'hard-edged' painting of the period.

"Girlie Door" 1959' (Private Collection) is another of the artist's unashamed personal celebrations of the female celebrity. The door does not exist, being a trompe l'oeil illusion. The 'pin ups' however, are real and from Peter Blake's own personal collection {including American icon Marilyn Monroe}.

His work "Masked Zebra Kid" 1965' (Tate Gallery) has the autograph of the actual wrestler in the centre of this piece (obtained by the artist at the Hammersmith Commodore). This itself is surrounded by photographs taken from 'Boxing and Wrestling Illustrated'.

Peter Blake's world is also inhabited by a realm of imaginary characters. He writes: "Babe Rainbow (daughter of the German wrestler Doktor K. Tortur)… is twenty three years old and has broken her nose in the ring. She was born in New Cross, London, and wrestles mainly in Europe and the U.S.A."

"Babe Rainbow" 1967' (Private Collection) was commissioned by Dodo Designs, originally to be an enamel plaque. This proved unfeasible and was silk-screened onto tin instead. As a Limited Edition of 10,000 they were initially sold for £1 each. Peter Blake's "Bobbie Rainbow" 2002' (Pallant House Gallery), the daughter of Babe, continues this commercial format.

The artist's record cover for "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" 1967' (Private Collection) very rapidly became an intrinsic part of popular culture itself. As a piece of work it blurs fantasy with reality. The Beatles were photographed with a 'life-sized' photographic assemblage of other legends and celebrities.

Peter Blake is a genuine fan of the 'Fab Four'. His work "The Beatles" 1963-8' uses magazine images (photographs taken of the group upon their return from Germany before they became a global phenomenon) as resource. Within each portrait there is space in anticipation of a future signature from each individual.

Some of the artist's work is pure theatre "Loelia, World' Most Tattooed Lady" 1955' (Fleur Cowles) (Private Collection) looks like a view from, or an advert promoting, a traveling fairground. In "Self Portrait " 1952-3' (Private Collection), Blake demonstrates an enthusiasm for the circus in an autobiographical context. He is standing in front of a wall of posters wearing harlequin trousers and a RAF jacket. This piece acknowledges his character, interests, and period of National Service (1951-3).

Another autobiographical piece 'On the Balcony' 1955-7' (Tate Gallery) is packed with wit, objects from popular culture and 27 references to the title (including pastiches of work by fellow RCA students and Edouard Manet {1832-1883}). The figure seated on the right hand side of the bench is the artist himself dressed as a youth. A more contemporary self-portrait is seen reflected in 'his' glasses.

Peter Blake became an Elected Member of the Royal Academy of Arts in 1981, was awarded a CBE in 1983. Working as an Associate Artist of the National Gallery (1994-1999), he continued to explore his relationship with the Art establishment. A combination of popular culture and religious iconography featured in 'Madonna of Venice Beach', 1994-6 (Waddington Galleries) from this residency period.

In 2003 the artist produced the album cover (originally a silk screen) for 'Stanley Road'. This image is unique to Paul Weller his life, culture and in essence the lyrics contained with the album itself. Elements within this design include the star, heart and target. These motifs are found to reoccur within the set of "4 enamel badges" (Pallant House Gallery) by the artist (limited to an edition of 2000). Badges are a timeless item associated with youth culture as seen in Blake's 'Self portrait with badges" 1961' (Tate Gallery).

Peter Blake has now become an intrinsic part of our popular culture (receiving a Knighthood in 2002). His work is accessible, affordable and available to all. He remains an individual with integrity who acknowledges his genuine fans. He must have had a moment to reflect upon the irony of his personal situation; a man who celebrates the popular icons of his generation, becomes one himself.

Peter Blake, in my own mind, is as much a necessity as a jar of quality marmalade; part of our heritage and culture, aesthetically pleasing, deep in texture, lacking pretentiousness and always current (albeit with a hint of nostalgia).

If you're a fan like me, I'll look out for you at Peter Blake: A Retrospective (Tate Liverpool, 29th June to 23rd September 2007).

Vaisey, M. Peter Blake, Weidenfeld & Nicholson 1986.

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