Sir Peter Blake’s upcoming show at Waddington Galleries, Homage 10x5 Blake's Artists, witnesses the legendary artist pay homage to ten artists that have had a profound impact upon him over the years. Taking his cues from the likes of Rauschenberg, Schwitters, Steinberg and Hirst, Blake has created a stunning and humorous series of works that channel the spirit of the originals into his own inimitable visual style, resulting in a body of work that eloquently riffs upon their aesthetic and conceptual depth. Here, the artist discusses the reasons for creating Homage 10x5 and tells us why the most important thing in art is to communicate to as many people as humanly possible.
Dazed Digital: In creating these pieces are you trying to channel the original intention of the artist or comment upon the work?
Sir Peter Blake: It’s both those things but I think the initial series that triggered this show was a series I made about five years ago called Appropriating Jack Pierson. He uses these big letterforms from in Las Vegas and makes a word from them. I really like those, so I made various works based on them – one was appropriating him, one was ripping him off and one was in homage to him. So, the initial kind of reasoning was to make something that looked like somebody else’s work simply because I liked their work, and then there was another series called In Homage To Collages...
Dazed Digital: In a sense, all assemblage or collage pays homage to the object that it elevates from the mundane...
Sir Peter Blake: Absolutely. That’s certainly true with someone like Kurt Schwitters who would literally pick up a sweet wrapper and make something beautiful with it. Although we are used to seeing that kind of thing now, it must have been shocking when Schwitters made those pieces. In a curious way, almost all collage making has to refer back to him because it was as though somebody had suddenly invented something that was absolutely new and extraordinary. I think everyone making collage owes a debt to the early collagists and is paying homage to them.
Dazed Digital: How has getting older shifted your perception as an artist?
Sir Peter Blake: When I was 65, I had just finished a big show at the National Gallery and I decided at that point that I would announce my retirement as a concept. It didn’t mean I was retiring from work, it just meant I was retiring from all the things related to art that I would try not to be involved with anymore such as jealousy and avarice. I decided that the big show at The National was the culmination of my career, which meant that anything that came after that could be an encore, and could just be a tiny little show that didn’t have to relate to earlier shows. Then, when I was 75, I announced to myself that I was in my late period – I wasn’t going to leave it to art historians to decide that I was in my late period – and that gave me a kind of licence to do whatever I wanted to do; to be a barmy old man. Those two things have really given me the freedom to do what I want.
Dazed Digital: Can you talk a little about the homage to Damien Hirst and his impact as an artist?
Sir Peter Blake: In the last couple of years, I’ve been making a series called The Butterfly Man, and the butterfly man originally appeared in a series of collages I made that were kind of homage to Duchamp’s world tour (in which I sent the artist around the world doing nice things – he visited the Barnum and Bailey circus, he played chess with Tracey and he met The Spice Girls). Out of that series has come The Butterfly Man, and he travels the world with his performing butterflies. I was making this series and Paul Stolper said to me, ‘Don’t you feel a bit that you are treading on Damien’s toes? In a way, he’s the butterfly man, not you.’ I said, “That’s absolutely right. Damien must have influenced me in some way by doing them, so I will put him into the homage show.’
Dazed Digital: Do you think Damien has changed the art world forever?
Sir Peter Blake: Totally. I had a theory about Damien early on and that’s that the spot paintings and the spin paintings were the culmination of two branches of art. The spot paintings were the last word in the kind of hard-edged American paintings of the 50s and 60s, because there was nowhere else to go after that. The concept is absolutely defined. Then the spin paintings were the end of abstract expressionism. I mean. where do you go from there? That automated, random movement of colours is what Pollock was trying to do. It brought that branch of painting to a conclusion. I don’t think he was contriving to do that but I think that’s what happened
Dazed Digital: Your art has travelled into the public sphere in so many ways over the years. Is making a connection with as many people as possible what drives you?
Sir Peter Blake: Exactly. It’s something I was always trying to do with my branch of Pop Art before it even had a name. At the time, I tried to explain that I wanted to make an art that was the equivalent of pop music, and that would be almost read in the same way. I’ve always tried to have something available somewhere that anybody could buy if they want to. Each year at the art car boot fair, I make an edition of 200 or so pieces that are sold for about 30 quid. Even a kid could save his pocket money and buy one.
Homage 10x5 Blake's Artists is at The Waddington Galleries from November 17 to December 11