Sir Peter Blake, born in 1932, is known as the Godfather of British Pop Art, and is perhaps best known for his design of The Beatles ‘Sgt. Peppers’ album cover. Knighted in 2002, and an honorary doctor of the Royal College of Art, his work is represented in major collections across the globe. His work crosses all generational divides and inspires great respect from younger artists such as Damien Hirst, Gavin Turk, Pure Evil and Tracey Emin.
Early life & Education
Born in Kent, Blake studied at Gravesend School of Art before a period of national service in the Royal Air Force. He was later accepted into the prestigious Royal College of Art in London and graduated in 1956, receiving a Leverhulme Research Award to study popular art which allowed him to travel extensively, drawing inspiration as he roamed.
It was around the period of his return to the UK that Blake’s style evolved from the classical naturalistic oil works of his early period to the collaged images of movie stars, musicians and pin-up girls that we most readily associate him with today. Blake has however, always retained a naturalistic strand of his practice and continues to work in oil on canvas throughout his ongoing career.
In 1969 Blake left London to live in the West Country, where he was a founding member of the Brotherhood of Ruralists, a group of artists who moved to Somerset to paint nature. He continued to live near Bristol until 1979, during this time his work moved away from the glossy commercial pop art, for which he is still most celebrated for, focusing on literary and rural subjects in oil.
Like many artists of his time, he came of age in a country recovering from the war so many of his interests were drawn toward the bright and happy lifestyle that was being touted in America via their booming advertising industry. Blake utilised ground breaking new methods such as screen-printing to create optimistic and bold renditions of life in magazines, on posters and billboards. This challenged the status quo’s idea about what constituted art and broke down barriers between traditional fine art and the new cutting-edge field of Pop.
Blake once said, “You simply can’t make art without having that history of art behind you and I think if you asked any artist they would always say they had learned from previous art. Perhaps I show that more than most in that I often appropriate art and quote from it.”
Blake’s work reflects his fascination with all streams of popular culture, and the beauty to be found in everyday objects and our surroundings. Many of his works feature found printed materials such as photographs, comic strips or advertising texts, combined with bold geometric patterns and the use of primary colours. There is also a strain of sentimentality and nostalgia running throughout his work, with particular focus towards childhood innocence and reminiscence, as can be seen clearly in his recent Alphabet series. The works perfectly captures the effervescent and optimistic ethos of the sixties but also continue to be strikingly fresh and contemporary.