Richard William Hamilton was a British painter and collage artist. His 1955 exhibition Man, Machine and Motion (Hatton Gallery, Newcastle) and his 1956 collage, Just what is it that makes today's homes so different, so appealing?, produced for the This Is Tomorrow exhibition of the Independent Group in London, are considered by critics and historians to be among the earliest works of pop art.
Born in Pimlico, London he left school with no formal qualifications but managed to gain an apprentice working at an electrical components firm, where he discovered an ability for draughtsmanship and began to do painting at evening classes. This led to his entry into the Royal Academy Schools. After spending the war working as a technical draftsman, he re-enrolled at the Royal Academy Schools before being expelled. After two years at the Slade School of Art, Hamilton began exhibiting his work at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) where he also produced posters and leaflets and teaching at the Central School of Art and Design.
In 1952, at the first Independent Group meeting, held at the ICA, Hamilton shown his collages produced in the late 1940s and early 1950s. They were later considered to be the first standard bearers of Pop Art. Hamilton gave a 1959 lecture where he deconstructed the technology of cinema to explain how it helped to create Hollywood’s allure. He further developed that theme in the early 1960s with a series of paintings inspired by film stills and publicity shots.
Hamilton's 1955 exhibition of paintings at the Hanover Gallery were all in some form a homage to Duchamp whom, he used to do some research and published a typographic version of Green Box. Just what is it that makes today's homes so different, so appealing? was created in 1956 for the catalogue of This Is Tomorrow where it was reproduced in black and white and also used in posters for the exhibit. The collage depicts a muscle-man provocatively holding a Tootsie Pop and a woman with large, bare breasts wearing a lampshade hat, surrounded by emblems of 1950s affluence from a vacuum cleaner to a large canned ham. It is widely acknowledged as one of the first pieces of Pop Art and his written definition of what ‘pop' is laid the ground for the whole international movement.
The success of This Is Tomorrow secured Hamilton further teaching assignments in particular at the Royal College of Art from 1957 to 1961, where he promoted David Hockney and Peter Blake. In 1962 his first wife Terry was killed in a car crash and in part to recover from this he travelled for the first time to the United States in 1963 for a retrospective of the works of Marcel Duchamp at the Pasadena Art Museum, where, as well as meeting other leading pop artists, he was befriended by Duchamp. Arising from this Hamilton curated the first British retrospective of Duchamp's work, and his familiarity with The Green Box enabled Hamilton to make copies of The Large Glass and other glass works too fragile to travel.
In 1968, Hamilton appeared in a Brian De Palma film titled Greetings, he also design the White album from the Beatles, being friend with Paul McCartney. During the 1970s, Richard Hamilton enjoyed international acclaim with a number of major exhibitions being organised of his work. By 1970, always fascinated by new technology, he was redirecting advances in product design into fine art and realised a series of projects that blurred the boundaries between artwork and product design. During the 1980s Hamilton again voyaged into industrial design and designed two computer exteriors.
In 1992, Richard Hamilton was commissioned by the BBC to recreate his famous art piece, Just What Is It That Makes Today's Homes So Different, So Appealing? but only this time, as to what he felt the average household would be like during the 1990s. Instead of the male body builder, he used an accountant working at a desk. Instead of the female icon, he used a world class female body builder. In 1981 Hamilton began work on a trilogy of paintings based on the conflict in Northern Ireland.
Since the late 1940s Richard Hamilton has been engaged with a project to produce a suite of illustrations for James Joyce's Ulysses. In 2002, the British Museum staged an exhibition of Hamilton's illustrations of James Joyce's Ulysses, entitled Imaging Ulysses. Hamilton died on 13 September 2011, at the age of 89.