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Peter Blake and Pop Music

[ Exhibition )

Picture divided into four, each corner with a portrait of one of the Beatles. Circle at centre with the legend

Peter Blake, The Beatles, 1962, Acrylic emulsion on hardboard, Pallant House Gallery, Chichester (Wilson Gift through The Art Fund, 2006) © Peter Blake. All rights reserved, DACS 2020

A major exhibition celebrating the 80th birthday of the godfather of Pop Art, Sir Peter Blake

The exhibition brought together important paintings, collages and prints from across Blake’s career alongside examples from his extraordinary collection of  pop music ephemera relating to Elvis Presley, The Beach Boys and soul singer La Vern Baker.

Sir Peter Blake has been closely linked with pop music since the 1950s. Throughout his long career he has painted images inspired by his musical heroes such as Elvis Presley, The Beatles and Sammy Davis Junior. He also created some of the most recognisable album covers of the last 50 years, working with The Beatles, Oasis, The Who and Eric Clapton.

Blake’s passion for American music developed early, a result of discovering his father’s collection of swing records and evenings spent at the Dartford Rhythm Club.

The first section of the show focused on the theme of Rock n’ Roll and in particular the ‘King of Rock n’ Roll’, Elvis Presely. It included memorable paintings such as Girls and Their Hero (1959-62) capturing ‘Elvismania’ in the late 1950s, and EL which features a lip-stick stained found photograph of the American singer.

Blake’s use of American icons in his art preceded that of Andy Warhol by several years. This fuelled his resentment of American critics who panned an exhibition of British Pop in New York in 1962, dubbing it a second-class imitation of the American version.

Blake is perhaps best known for his iconic album cover for The Beatles’ album Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which he designed with the artist Jann Haworth. Blake first met The Beatles in the early 1960s, before their acceleration to superstardom following the release of the No. 1 hit album ‘Please Please Me’ in March 1963.

It will also feature Blake’s iconic Self Portrait with badges which casts himself in the role of fan to the legend of Elvis. The image references Thomas Gainsborough’s famous portrait The Blue Boy but Blake changes the fabric from silk to denim in an allusion to American youth culture.

Blake was an avid collector of pop memorabilia. His collection included an extraordinary selection of Elvis ephemera as well as pieces inspired by other musicians and groups such as LaVern Baker and The Beach Boys.

The exhibition also included Blake’s memorable group portrait of the Fab Four, painted as if it was itself an album cover. Talking to the critic Mervyn Levy at the time, Blake rather quaintly said: “At the moment I’m working on a large conversation piece of the Liverpool song group, The Beatles. Each of these chaps is closely associated with the city and I hope the local fans will find in this picture a visual significance that will somehow match the mood of the music.”

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