Peter Blake (artist)

Peter Blake (artist)

Sir Peter Thomas Blake, CBE (born 25 June 1932, in Dartford, Kent) is an English pop artist, best known for his design of the sleeve for The Beatles' album "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band". He lives in Chiswick, London, UK.


During the late 1950s, Blake became one of the best known British pop artists. His paintings from this time included imagery from advertisements, music hall entertainment, and wrestlers, often including collaged elements. Blake was included in group exhibitions at the Institute of Contemporary Arts and had his first solo exhibition in 1960. It was with the 'Young Contemporaries' exhibition of 1961 where he was exhibited alongside David Hockney and R.B. Kitaj that he was first identified with the emerging British Pop Art movement. Blake won the (1961) John Moores junior award for his work "Self Portrait with Badges". He first came to wider public attention when, along with Pauline Boty, Derek Boshier and Peter Phillips, he featured in Ken Russell's film on pop art, "Pop Goes the Easel", which was broadcast on BBC television in 1962. From 1963 Blake was represented by Robert Fraser which placed him at the centre of swinging London and brought him into contact with leading figures of popular culture.


"On the Balcony" (1955-57) is a significant early work and still stands as one of the iconic pieces of British Pop Art, showing Blake's interest in combining images from pop culture with fine art. The work, which appear to be a collage but is in fact wholly painted, shows, among other things, a boy holding Edouard Manet's "The Balcony", badges and magazines. It was inspired by a painting by Honoré Sharrer depicting workers holding famous paintings. Blake confronts the viewer with a picture plane that is deceptively flat, effectively blocking the viewer from venturing deeper into the picture plane. This spatial property however is a flatness that resounds starkly; a flat surface that at once becomes a presentation of characters and images as well as a culturally implicit sense of external facade. One of the most striking initial aspects of this piece is that it seems to radiate an illusionist child-like charm which the viewer can easily identify with making it from first glance an oddly powerful work. His self-identification with the axioms of popular culture in effect show an awareness of the mechanisms of a society being faced with celebrity idolatry and cultural goods. Such banal goods and images were not frequently seen in artwork and created a new space for discourse within a painting. Blake’s characters are strangely static and scarcely seem to notice the accumulation around them – even when images are tacked right on top of them. This was not merely whimsical thinking or dreams of consumer grandeur, and albeit not a simple display of products; it was life as Blake experienced it, as true and telling an account of the surroundings of the time as could be made.

Blake also often directly referred to the work of other artists. "On the Balcony" (1955-57) has Edouard Manet's "The Balcony" being held by a boy on the left of the composition, and "The First Real Target" (1961) is a standard archery target with the title written across the top as a play on the paintings of targets by Kenneth Noland and Jasper Johns.

Blake also painted several notable album sleeves. He designed the sleeve for "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band", which he designed with his then-wife the American born artist Jann Haworth, whom he married in 1963 and divorced in 1979. This has become an iconic work of pop art, much imitated and Blake's best known work. The means of production was the construction of a set with cut-out photographs and objects, such as flowers, centred around a drum (sold in auction in 2008) with the title of the album. Blake has subsequently complained about the one-off fee he received for the design, with no subsequent royalties. Blake also made sleeves for the Band Aid single, "Do They Know It's Christmas?" (1984), Paul Weller's "Stanley Road" (1995) and the Ian Dury tribute album "Brand New Boots and Panties" (2001; Blake had been Dury's tutor at the Royal College of Art in the mid-60s). He also designed the sleeves for Pentangle's "Sweet Child" and The Who's "Face Dances" (1981), which features portraits of the band by a number of artists.

In 1969 Blake left London to live near Bath. Blake's work changed direction featuring scenes based on English Folklore and characters from Shakespeare. In the early 1970s, he made a set of watercolours to illustrate Lewis Carroll's "Through the Looking Glass" and in 1975 was a founder of the Brotherhood of Ruralists. Blake moved back to London in 1979 and his work returned to the earlier popular culture references.

Blake was made a Royal Academician in 1981, and a CBE in 1983. "A major retrospective of Blake's work was held in the Tate in 1983...(and) in 2002 Blake was awarded a knighthood for his services to art." In February 2005, the Sir Peter Blake Music Art Gallery, located in the School of Music, University of Leeds, was opened by the artist. The permanent exhibition features 17 examples of Blake's album sleeve art, including the only public showing of a signed print of his famed "Sgt. Pepper's" artwork. In June 2006, as The Who returned to play Leeds University 36 years after recording their seminal "Live at Leeds" album there in 1970, Blake unveiled a new "Live at Leeds 2" artwork to commemorate the event. Both the artist and The Who's Pete Townshend signed an edition which will join the gallery's collection.

More recently, Blake has created Artist's editions for the opening of the Pallant House Gallery which houses collections that include some of his most famous paintings. These works are homages to his earlier work on the "Stanley Road" album cover and Babe Rainbow prints. He also designed a series of deck chairs.

In 2006, Blake designed the cover for Oasis greatest hits album "Stop the Clocks". According to Blake, he chose all of the objects in the picture at random, but the sleeves of "Sgt. Pepper's" and "Definitely Maybe" were in the back of his mind. He claims, "It's using the mystery of "Definitely Maybe" and running away with it." Familiar cultural icons which can be seen on the cover include Dorothy from "Wizard of Oz", Charles Manson (replacing the original image of Marilyn Monroe, which couldn't be used for legal reasons) and the seven dwarfs from "Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs".

Blake also revealed that the final cover wasn't the original one. That design featured an image of the shop 'Granny Takes A Trip' on the Kings Road in Chelsea, London.

Blake created an updated version of "Sgt. Pepper" - with famous figures from Liverpool history - as part of the successful campaign for Liverpool to become European Capital of Culture 2008, and is creating a series of prints to celebrate Liverpool's status. [ Mike Chapple, "Pop art pioneer marks 2008", "Liverpool Daily Post", 26/5/06, p3 ]


* 1991 : "24 Nights" by Eric Clapton - scrapbook by Peter Blake (Genesis Publications)



* "Eye", No. 35, Vol. 9, edited by John L. Walters, Quantum Publishing, 2000.

External links

* [ Blake at the Tate Gallery] , including a biography. and images of several of his works
* [,11109,740373,00.html Jonathon Jones on Blake's "Self-Portrait With Badges" (1961)] from "The Guardian"
* [,11710,1691408,00.html A profile of Peter Blake by Nicholas Wroe] from "The Guardian"
* [ Brotherhood of Ruralists web site]
* [ Peter Blake article in Art & Culture magazine]
* [ June 2002 BBC article about Blake]
* [ Autumn 2006 interview in Liverpool's 'Nerve' magazine]

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