I visited the Tate Modern earlier this month where an exhibition was held of Richard Hamilton’s work.
The exhibition was held across a whole floor of the gallery that contained 18 rooms or different work. The exhibition was described as a unique collection of Hamilton’s work
“For the first time, this retrospective presents Hamilton’s paintings, prints, and Polaroids alongside his exhibition designs and installations” – Tate Modern.
Each room contained a different set of his work and i was overwhelmed with the amount of work he had created over the years. I knew Hamilton for his pop art from when I studied Art so I really enjoyed broadening my knowledge of his work.
But there was one room that I was particularly interested in, Room 16.
This room contained a vast collection of framed polaroid images, all different sizes and formats. This was a body of work I was unfamiliar with so I was taken aback by the vast amount but also equally confused of the reoccurring face in each one.
Hamilton visited Roy Lichenstein in America in 1968, during his visit the american artist took a polaroid of Hamilton, then later Ian Baxter took a photograph of Hamilton in a similar manner.
This intrigued Hamilton as he could see connections in each image to the artist’s style of work. Hamilton bought a Polaroid camera when he returned to the UK and decided to start this as a project.
One of the more well-known images of the series was a portrait taken by Francis Bacon, Hamilton noticed that the blurs, poor lighting re-called the visual elements of Bacon’s paintings despite the automatic point and shoot function camera.
Hamilton went on to collate and publish 4 volumes of these polaroids named “Polaroid Portraits” between 1971-2001.
As a polaroid lover myself, this body of work intrigued me. I tried to look for scribbled names that I recognised to see if I could see a connection.. I spotted Max Ernst, Andy Warhol, Man Ray, Henri Cartier-Bresson and many many more.
It became apparent that Hamilton knew a lot of people, a lot of important established artists from all corners of the art world.
Hamilton described the artists function in the project as
“the artist does have a specific kind of eye, an attitude that will direct the image in an entirely personal way.” – Hamilton
Each polaroid image is an artefact of not only Hamilton who is depicted in the images but the photographer as well, they are very present in the images and it proves that each and every artist is different, we will frame things differently, try to capture something else in the image from one another. What I found most interesting about the body of work is how different each image was despite the common subject. Each image was so very different despite the common subject.
It shows individuality and of course the relationship between artist and model, the collaboration is a binary of the two and presents a relationship. I tried to look for clues to see if they were close friends or any hints of how the artists regarded Hamilton.
We also have to consider why he had chosen a polaroid photograph, did it make it anything different from a film image that would be later developed and printed? I think the charm of these images is that the polaroids were instant and that they could be viewed within a few minutes by both creators, a snap shot among friends it’s a lot less formal, more fun and novel which works nicely with a friendship.