Richard Hamilton: 1922-2011

Richard Hamilton, the British artist widely considered to be the father of Pop art, died yesterday, September 13, 2011. Today, with numerous obituaries appearing in newspapers throughout the world, it is worth remembering the autobiography he himself wrote, with a Polaroid camera and a little help from 128 of his friends:
HAMILTON, Richard. Polaroid Portraits. Vol. 1, 2, 3 and 4. London/Stuttgart: Edition Hansjorg Mayer, n.d. [1972, 1977, 1983, 2002].

12mos; fully illustrated in b&w and color; cloth boards; printed dust-jackets. Near fine.

First Edition. Started in 1968, finished in 2001, Richard Hamilton’s “self-portrait” project spanned five decades and eventually comprised four volumes. The concept was simple: when Hamilton visited another artist (or an artist came to see him) he asked them to take his picture with a Polaroid camera. When he had collected 32 such Polaroid portraits he published a volume in the series and listed the artists names on the cover. All together these books contain a very effective self-portrait of Hamilton, encompassing his life and travels, the way he aged, and the people that he knew…

After even the briefest perusal of these books it becomes clear that Richard Hamilton knew just about everyone. Roy Lichtenstein took the first picture; Toronto-based designer Bruce Mau, took the last. Artists in between included Andy Warhol, John Baldessari, Man Ray, Francis Bacon, Robert Rauschenberg, Ed Ruscha, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Joseph Beuys, and Gerhard Richter (not to mention, on separate occasions, John Lennon and Paul McCartney).

In conception these books recall Lewitt’s Autobiography, Hans-Peter Feldmann’s All the Clothes of a Woman, and other conceptual photobooks in which an individual’s identity is conveyed obliquely, through an inventory of images. In this case, though, the outlook is quintessentially Pop: it is the inventory of bold-face names that forms identity.

Warhol: My Hustler(Sin in the Summer on Fire Island)

Andy Warhol
Poster for My Hustler 
22 x 14 inches
Letterpress on poster board

Warhol: Sin in the
Summer on Fire Island
Andy Warhol's My Hustler consists of two 33-minute long takes, each a full 1,200 foot reel of 16 mm film exposed continuously. It was filmed on Fire Island in 1965 in a shoot that is notorious because just about everyone on set had taken LSD. Apparently someone had spiked either the scrambled eggs or the orange juice and though Warhol himself denies having been affected, there are wildly differing accounts of the day and few, if any, are completely reliable. The plot of the movie, such as it is, is that an old homosexual brings a beautiful, blond, butch hustler, played by Paul America, to Fire Island for the weekend only to have all his neighbors try to lure him away. Paul America had been discovered at a discotheque in 1965 and brought to the Factory. Born Paul Johnson, accounts also differ as to how he acquired his stage name, though as Warhol said, "he was unbelievably good-looking, like a comic-strip drawing of Mr. America, clean-cut, handsome, very symmetrical. He seemed to be exactly six feet tall and weigh some nice round number." America wound up living at The Factory from 1965 to 1968 where he was, according to Ondine, "everybody's lover.... He was the personification of total sexual satisfaction. Without a brain in his head. Just beautifully vapid."

My Hustler was one of the few early Warhol films that was actually successful commercially. It premiered at the Film-makers' Cinematheque in April, 1966 and this poster was one of ten printed to advertise its run. Its release came during an extraordinary period for Warhol: as My Hustler was showing on 41st street, the Velvet Underground was downtown at The Dom playing its first shows with the Exploding Plastic Inevitable, and on East 77th street Warhol's silver clouds and cow wallpaper were being shown at the Castelli Gallery. (click here for full size image)