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Richard Hamilton and Ulysses
Miriam O'Connor Perks
[ Artist in Focus, Stories )
In celebration of Blooms Day 2022 Assistant Curator, Miriam O’Connor Perks explores artist Richard Hamilton’s fascination with Ulysses.
Happy Blooms Day! The 16th June is celebrated in Ireland and around the world as the day on which events unfold in James Joyce’s modernist epic Ulysses. The tale follows Leopold Bloom, who drifts through Dublin during the course of one summer’s day in 1904. The book makes reference to the mythological journey, the Odyssey and was hugely controversial at the time of publication. Joyce’s work broke both social and literary taboos at the time.
Since its publication Ulysses has been an inspiration to many, especially the artist Richard Hamilton, who had a life-long fascination with the book. The book was published by Sylvia Beach on 2 February 1922 in Paris, on Joyce’s 40th birthday, the same year that Hamilton was born. Whilst a student at the Slade in the late 1940s, Hamilton started to experiment with the idea of illustrating the book. In the 1980s, he returned to this idea and created eighteen intaglio prints. There was one for each of the episodes in Ulysses in collaboration with Aldo Crommelynck’s workshop in Paris, who had also worked with Pablo Picasso.
Bronze by Gold is the only print of the eighteen made that was in colour, a technical feat of twenty-four colours drawn from five different plates. Bronze by Gold relates to the ‘Sirens’ episode of Ulysses, the mythological creatures reimagined as two Dublin barmaids, Miss Douce and Miss Kennedy. Hamilton imbues a sense of melancholy to the print, through using a muted colour palette and through the women’s cold, expressionless eyes.
Hamilton also makes playful references to works, such as French painter Edouard Manet’s the Bar at the Folies Bergères. He uses the same motif of the mirror to comment upon the illusory nature of representation by creating an impossible reflection in the glass. The ‘Sirens’ episode of Ulysses finds one of the protagonists, Leopold Bloom, in a Dublin pub at four o’clock in the afternoon. Joyce’s style for this episode draws heavily upon the tools used for musical composition, folding and counterpointing the multiple voices, sounds and songs heard at the bar. The title of Hamilton’s work comes from the opening lines of the episode:
‘Bronze by gold, miss Douce’s head by miss Kennedy’s head, over the cross blind of the Ormond bar heard the vice-regal hoofs go by, ringing steel’
Joyce’s lyrical prose is translated through Hamilton’s choice of colour for this particular print. He creates harmonious juxtapositions between the bronze and gold of the barmaids’ hair, and the straw hat worn by Blazes Boylan to the left of the work, the pub sign and the red velvet curtain.
A selection of Hamilton’s Ulysses prints were presented by Cristea Roberts Gallery in 2021, making the centenary year of the publication of Ulysses a timely period to explore these works.
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