Richard Hamilton: Protest Pictures (3 stars)

This article is from 2008.

Richard Hamilton: Shock and Awe

'Shock and Awe'

Incomplete display of anti-establishment works by a British master

While this exhibition gives a flavour of just how iconic the work of pioneering British pop artist Richard Williams has been, particularly in relation to the authority-subverting subtexts at work within them, the impression upon leaving is that only fragments of a rich and vibrant story have been told. Williams was a close contemporary of Peter Blake, Eduardo Paolozzi and David Hockney, and designed the Beatles’ White Album cover, yet these biographical facts are only hinted at here.

The first image is ‘Swingeing London’ depicting Mick Jagger and Keith Richards’ famous 1967 drug bust. Jagger attempts to shield his face from a photographer while cuffed to a policeman, and the same image echoes around the room as a screenprint, an etching, a pencil drawing, an oil painting. The same multiple-image, multiple-media technique is repeated throughout the decade-in-the-making triptych of ‘The Subject’, ‘The Citizen’ and ‘The State’, and Hamilton’s recreating these iconic images of the Irish Troubles also reappropriates the fearful consequences they represent.

As with the 1984-style installation ‘Treatment Room’, which uses Thatcher as the hub of a fiendish brainwashing machine, and the ‘Kent State’ series, a group of direct-from-television news images of the titular riots in 1970, Hamilton’s work uses mass media archetypes and techniques as a mirror of the times. The fact that artists of all proficiencies have now caught up with his media awareness dilutes the effect, but the contemporary ‘Shock and Awe’ – a gap-toothed Tony Blair as gun-slinging cowboy – is still an amusing addition to the canon.

Royal Botanic Gardens (Inverleith House), 248 2971, until Sun 12 Oct, Tue-Sun 10am-5.30pm, free.

Richard Hamilton: Protest Pictures

  • 3 stars

Retrospective giving an (incomplete) idea of just how influential the great British pop artist has been. His critiques of the way mass media communicates politics might now seem commonplace, but this is a good reminder of just who pioneered those techniques in the first place.

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