This is an audio of Richard Hamilton’s talk, currently up on the Serpentine Gallery’s site. I’ve made extensive notes of what is newest in it below, which concentrates on previously unexhibited work towards the end of the talk. Most of the 119 minutes here is RH himself; beginning at 11 mins in and ending at 87 mins after which is a short discussion with Hans-Ulrich Obrist. The audio ends at 109 mins in fact.
Much of what he says about individual pieces through his career he has said before in interviews recently republished in Richard Hamilton October Files 10, for example. However, even if you know those well it’s different, of course, to hear how he talks about the word pop and his emphases, hesitations, digressions in general. Especially interesting is what he has to say about Palestinian dispossession and the work it has generated.
RH starts by saying he wants “to give you some impression of what my work is about” beyond the political works at the Serpentine show. So he begins with the “cool fifties”;
Hers is a lush situation . “So much was happening at that time … I was fascinated in the uncertainty principle for example … influence I felt most was that it was not a good idea to get involved in value judgments …“
Hal Foster is, as ever, good on the transition from “the “tabular” pictures in the late 1950s. This suite of paintings, still too little known, explores the emergent visual idioms of postwar consumer society … in a mode of suave pastiche…
In subsequent work by Hamilton, this satirical edge subsides, yet a political dimension persists. It is often subtle, however, because Hamilton is concerned to capture less the political event than its mediation -how it is produced for us precisely as an image- and it is this mediation that he both elaborates and exposes.” [my emphasis]
Portrait of Hugh Gaitskell as a Famous Monster of Filmland . “So I thought maybe this is a good subject for me to test out my ability to paint a picture which is motivated by anger or some kind of response to things I disliked [nuclear weapons], so my cool cloak would be cast off, momentarily … and the result was this picture -which I thought didn’t quite work…”
Swingeing London 67 [1968-69]. “Then something incensed me … my dealer Robert Fraser and Mick Jagger were involved in a bust … so I made this poster … the bit that interested me most was the photograph in the top left hand corner …”
Kent State . “… several people died and all this came across on a television screen in England … I was clicking my camera … it was so horrific … didn’t want the feeling of exploiting … on the other hand it would keep the event in the minds of people for a long time …”
Treatment Room [1983-4]. “Margaret Thatcher had just made a speech [party election broadcast] on the tv … terribly boring and something suitable … the Conservative Party were not so happy with it … tried to get it stopped …”
The citizen [1982-3]. “British press called it the Dirty Protest … Irish press called it No Wash -language is always very careful to get the right nuance … the whole thing is very painterly, I think … the citizen, he’s supposed to be from Ulysses, the rebellious character … Hugh Rooney, there’s a lot of confusion … they say this is Bobby Sands!”
The subject [1988-9]. “… interesting to have the other side of the coin of the Ulster situation … William of Orange … Quantel Paintbox … that is the same window that appears in The citizen, but he’s on the outside, the citizen is on the inside… most of this I think is painted …”
The state [1993 ]. “The idea I had was that the state was also involved … all these problems come from civil liberties being deprived and action against it … Afghanistan, Palestine, Iraq … most of the image is photographic [apart from collage elements] … soldier walking backwards … there’s some difference …”
War games [1991-2]
Medal of dishonour .
Shock and Awe [2007-8] The Blair-as-Wild-West-Cowboy is not bad but does not have the resonant exactitude of so much else here. RH talked at length about it, essentially defending it by showing how he arrived at the image. Deconstructing it commonsensically did make it more substantial for me, I’m happy to concede.
“The advantage of all these political things is that they go into Institutions usually… Arts Council … Tate … where they remain forever! They can’t disacquisition.”
He talks for the first time about the most recent works in the Serpentine show, including the pieces about Palestine.
Maps of Palestine . “When I looked at the maps of Palestine now, and then, I was so horrified to think this is like a disease! It’s like a liver that’s got sclerosis or something. So I looked at all the maps I could find on the internet, and they weren’t very clear so I had to redraw it … it is an extraordinary demonstration of what is actually happening. You won’t find a clearer expression of the real physical situation than in this map …” [see my earlier post here]
Extraordinary rendition [no date]. “A picture which I’ve known for a very long time because I was always a campaigner for Mordechai Vanunu … at least a third of the membership was Jewish, elderly ladies … it’s always been very much in my mind and I thought it would be good to paint it … I end up with something I feel is an abstraction [in painterly terms] … the flash caused a reflection of what is behind the camera and there are very strange things happening, including the possibility of giving him a laurel wreath.” [see my earlier post here]
Badges. Collector/manufacturer. Thatcher/Tory charging the public admission to public museums [remember that?] The ‘Free’ campaign.
“Free Dick Higgins even … I picked up this badge in the Gotham Art Bookshop … I know Dick Higgins … anybody can take them, so I took my Dick Higgins one. The freedom badge is very important in the genre, so I thought I would do a Free Leonardo Da Vinci badge which turned out rather well …
“I have a Palestine badge, it may have coincided with Maps … I’d like a nice luxurious badge, enamel rather than a button, like the sort of thing, the flag that Bush wears on his lapel. All American Presidents wear an American flag on their lapel, which is rather nauseating … I thought I’d make something you could use like that and I’d put Palestine on it … They’re beautiful little objects, so I’ve been handing them out to friends for some time. Sometimes it’s difficult … I sent one to a good friend of mine … his wife said ‘I can’t wear this badge’ … It was such a pathetic letter in that she really was sorry. I’m always amazed that an awful lot of Jewish people feel badly about Palestine.
“I was helped very much by Eyal Weizman, he was marvelous … his book Hollow Land [Verso 2008 here] … it’s an amazing book, absolutely extraordinary, a systematic, thorough examination of the situation in Palestine. He has this concept of a 3-dimensional land which is layered politically. There are tunnels built, roads built, another level, it’s very complex. The strategies used for the stealing of these territories, bits of territory … I think he should describe it!
“It’s all about putting a mobile camera mast in. They put these masts on high points, because you need it up there don’t you? Then they would have a shed of two installed and then you need a road to get up to it. So you’ve got a road and then, in no time at all, it’s a settlement!
“And this is how it’s done all over the Palestinian territory which has been occupied against the wishes of the United Nations and an enormous number of resolutions that the UN make which are taken no notice of at all. I mean they take notice but nobody else seems to take any notice. It’s sort of, well if they won’t do it, it’s er, hard to know what to do.
“Netanyahu comes up relentlessly with this thing; ‘that is not negotiable. We want to talk to the Palestinians, but of course that’s not negotiable, we don’t talk about that.’ He selects all these things which are not negotiable …
Richard Hamilton: “Everybody should read Eyal Weizman.”
Hans-Ulrich Obrist: “Yes, for those of you that haven’t read it, it is urgent that you read Eyal Weizman.”
[Thanks to everyone behind the exhibition and this talk event, specifically to E.]