Saturday, 3 July 2010
SIR PETER BLAKE IN CONVERSATION at the VICTORIA AND ALBERT MUSEUM
In a prolific career stretching back over fifty years Sir Peter Blake is known for one piece of artwork and design more than any other. It’s the most famous album sleeve of all time, housing a reasonable record, and although it’s become an irritation to the man there’s no escaping the name Peter Blake will always be synonymous with The Who’s 1981 Face Dances.
He will come to that, but first he recounts how he studied – initially more by chance and on a hunch than any predetermined plan - painting and design at Gravesend Technical College and then the Royal College of Art during the 40s and 50s and how both disciplines have shaped his career. He was told he’d never make a career as a painter so also took design classes and the main focus of his talk, lasting over an hour, is his design work to coincide with the forthcoming publication of Design, a retrospective by Brian Webb and Peyton Skipwith. It is Brian Webb steering the questions giving the talk structure with a selection of images. Having seen a few talks at the V&A they can suffer from a poorly prepared questioner or a reluctant interviewee – neither is the case here. Webb knows his onions and Blake is an engaging speaker with anecdotes tumbling forth with only time restraints trimming his answers.
Self Portrait with Badges (1961), one of his most recognisable earlier paintings remains one of his – and my – favourites. The references to popular culture that make him the poppiest of the pop artists are clearly in evidence but without the nostalgic romanticism that came later. Webb remarks on his lack of angst and Blake explains artists have different incentives to create art: some for political reasons, some to show loss or mourning, his aim is to celebrate, “although I can do angst if you want”.
There is no reference to The First Real Target (1961) but Babe Rainbow (1968) and her growing family is joyfully covered. Watch out for future offspring.
There’s a section about his record sleeves which includes Face Dances, the “”Do They Know It’s Christmas?” single, surprisingly no mention of Stanley Road, but a fair bit on Oasis’s Stop The Clocks compilation. He’d originally produced an adaption of the Granny Takes A Trip shop front but ended with a photograph of items from his studio that Noel Gallagher liked the look of. He’d slyly hoped myths might develop about the significance of the items used but was disappointed when none did. Don’t worry Pete, I’d take that more as a reflection on the lack of interest in Oasis than you. The doll in the blue dress however was used in the garden part of Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Oh yeah, Sgt Pepper. He doesn’t much want to talk about his “albatross” but both he and Webb know he can’t escape that easily, so he does. He tells about the making of it but wishes he’d done Pet Sounds instead. On his way today someone stuffed Pepper in front of him to sign and nowadays he charges ten quid to do it which he gives to a children’s charity. The previous week during one day alone he’d raised £1200. You can see the relief when the topic changes.
It’s interesting to hear him talk about working once a week on a computer (“a seventh of my time” which shows how busy he is) and how he could knock up a whole show in one day if he felt like it and that one design might only take him half an hour. Yet that balances against “fine art” commissions from St Paul’s Cathedral which could take a couple of years to complete.
After Webb rounds things up to the present day with the new book jackets for Penguin and a Glastonbury poster he offers the audience the chance to ask a few questions, “but not about Sgt. Pepper” adds Blake to everyone’s amusement. Yes, over there, first question. “I wanted to ask you about Sgt. Pepper…”
Peter Blake Design by Peyton Skipwith and Brian Webb will be published by Antique Collectors’ Club in November 2010, priced £12.50