A major new exhibition of the works of Sir Peter Blake, the godfather of British Pop Art, to celebrate his 80th birthday is to open from 23 June to 7 October at Pallant House Gallery, Chichester. Peter Blake and Pop Music explores the artist’s close links with popular music since the 1950s. Not only has he painted images inspired by his musical heroes such as Elvis Presley, The Beatles and Sammy Davis Junior but he has worked closely with musicians and bands including Oasis, The Who and Eric Clapton to create some of the most recognisable album covers of the last 50 years.
Blake’s passion for American music developed early, a result of discovering his father’s collection of swing records as well as evenings spent at the Dartford Rhythm Club from the age of 15. The first section of the show focuses on the theme of Rock n’ Roll and will include Blake’s memorable paintings such as ‘Girls and Their Hero’ (1959-62) capturing the mania surrounding ‘The King’ in the late 1950s, and ‘EL’ which features a lip-stick stained found photograph of the American singer.
It will also feature Blake’s iconic ‘Self Portrait with badges’ which casts himself in the role of fan to the legend of Elvis. The image references Thomas Gainsborough’s famous portrait ‘The Blue Boy’ but Blake changes the fabric from silk to denim in an allusion to American youth culture. Blake’s use of American icons in his art preceded that of Andy Warhol by several years, fuelling his resentment of American critics who panned an exhibition of British Pop in New York in 1962, dubbing it a second-class imitation of the American version.
An avid collector of pop memorabilia, this section of the exhibition will also include examples from Blake’s extraordinary collection of Elvis ephemera as well as pieces inspired by other musicians and groups such as the American soul singers La Vern Baker and The Beach Boys.
Blake is perhaps best known for his iconic album cover for The Beatles’ album Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which he designed with the artist Jann Haworth. Blake first met The Beatles in the early 1960s, before their acceleration to superstardom following the release of the No. 1 hit album ‘Please Please Me’ in March 1963. As well as featuring the Victoriana-inspired original collage, the second section of the exhibition will include the inner sleeve of the album from Pallant House Gallery’s Collection.
It will also include Blake’s memorable group portrait of the Fab Four, painted as if it was itself an album cover. Talking to the critic Mervyn Levy at the time, Blake rather quaintly said: ‘At the moment I’m working on a large conversation piece of the Liverpool song group, The Beatles. Each of these chaps is closely associated with the city and I hope the local fans will find in this picture a visual significance that will somehow match the mood of the music.”