Richard Hamilton is considered one of the most influential British artists of the 20th century and rightfully so, as he was one of the founders of the Pop Art movement. His influence can be seen in the Young British Artists and emerging artists today.
This massive retrospective looks back across his work and highlights both his evolution as an artist and the diversity of his portfolio including paintings, sculpture, collage and large scale installations.
The exhibition starts off slowly with Hamilton’s earlier works focussed on shape and form, and then it shifts a gear into rooms that remind us why he’s seen as the ‘godfather of pop art’. A giant Robbie the robot from The Forbidden Plant towers over visitors while a jukebox plays classic hits and there is a rather unsettling foam floor that we can walk over. It’s an assault on the senses and it’s a shame there aren’t more of these absorbing installations in this exhibition.
The retrospective is also sharply political with Tony Blair depicted as a gunslinger and a map of Palestinian land as it is now, side by side with what it was in 1947. Other political issues tackled include both Margaret Thatcher and the IRA hunger strikers. These are the works of an artist who had strong political views on many subjects and was not afraid to offend.
Another highlight is his recreation of a hotel lobby from a postcard, complete with a set of stairs going nowhere and visitors can even breathe in the smell of carpet.
The exhibition ends on his later pieces. They aren’t his strongest, but show that Hamilton possessed such variety yet was still experimenting with something different even in his final years. His works won’t all resonate with visitors and we’re unsure whether some or all of his political works will stand the test of time, but we can’t help but admire Hamilton’s versatility and adaptability as an artist.
Richard Hamilton is on at Tate Modern until 26 May. Tickets are £13.10 for adults, concessions available. Two of his original installations have been recreated at the ICA and a selection of his prints are on display at Alan Cristea Gallery, Cork Street.
Also still on at Tate Modern is the excellent Paul Klee: Making Visible exhibition.