The Arts Club is thrilled to announce an exhibition of paintings, found objects and collage artworks by Peter Blake, the President of The Arts Club and a long-standing member since 1981. Highly inventive and influential, Blake is frequently described as the godfather of British Pop art. Bringing together new and historic pieces, the exhibition includes his recent painted portrait series Girl with a Disney Tattoo, on public display for the first time; portraits of both Queen Elizabeth II, painted in 2012, and Meghan Markle, painted in 2018; collage works from his Joseph Cornell’s Holiday series; and works featuring his long-time obsession, Pop icon Marilyn Monroe.
At the core of Blake’s work is an ongoing fascination with popular culture and history, including music, film, art historical figures, the Royals and celebrity. Since the late 1950s and early 1960s, he has been one of Britain’s best-known Pop artists, and arguably its most idiosyncratic. Throughout his practice, Blake has cultivated a specifically British pop aesthetic on his own terms: a counterpart to both American Pop artists such as Warhol or Lichtenstein, and to his British peers Allen Jones, Patrick Caulfield and Joe Tilson, Blake also draws on his own interests in folk art, Victoriana and counterculture to form a highly distinctive visual language. It’s this quintessentially ‘Blake’ aesthetic that he has also brought to such celebrated album covers as the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Oasis’ Stop the Clocks.
On view at The Arts Club is his more recent series of portraits painted during lockdown, Girl with a Disney Tattoo (part of what Blake refers to as his late period). Featuring Blake’s smallest ever portrait to date, these paintings depict a series of figures each with a tattoo of a Disney character on their neck or face. “I’ve always loved Disney,” says Blake. “My mother used to take me to the cinema when I was a baby and I can remember seeing all the early Disney films.” By pairing Disney characters with young people whose facial expressions range from joyous to wistful, this childhood motif creates ambiguous associations: it remains for the viewer to decide whether Blake is suggesting a time of innocence or malevolence.
Blake’s Queen Elizabeth II (2012) was painted in celebration of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee for the cover of the Radio Times magazine. “I love the Queen,” Blake has said, “I like Philip too. He’s a great character and I’m very fond of Charles.” The Queen’s portrait will be shown alongside his 2018 portrait Meghan Markle, The Duchess of Sussex, painted for Vogue in celebration of the year Markle and Prince Harry were married. Also on show are six examples of his Joseph Cornell’s Holiday, from a larger series of intricate collage works Blake made in a narrative homage to reclusive American artist Joseph Cornell, who loved Europe but never travelled to it in his lifetime. Blake posthumously takes Cornell to the sites he never saw in the flesh, including Lee Miller and Roland Penrose’s Farley Farm, the focus of The Arts Club’s selection.
Pop Goes The Arts Club is curated by Pernilla Holmes and Amelie von Wedel of Wedel Art. The Arts Club and Wedel Art are immensely grateful to Waddington Custot for closely collaborating on this show, and most especially to Peter Blake for his inimitable intellect, enthusiasm and vision.