Golden Oldies: Highlights from Art Basel 2013
Bronze by Gold, inspired by James Joyce's epic modernist novel, Ulysses, relates to the "Sirens" episode in the novel. Here, two flirtatious barmaids - the bronze-haired Miss Lydia Douce and the golden-haired Miss Mina Kennedy - work behind the bar of the Ormond Hotel in Dublin. Reminiscent of the sirens in Homer's Odyssey, they lure men to drink at their counter.
Hamilton remains as faithful as possible to Joyce's text. Bronze by gold, for instance, is printed in 23 colours, reflecting the emphasis on colour in the Sirens episode. It also captures the eroticism of Joyce's description.
"On the smooth jutting beerpull laid Lydia hand lightly, plumply, leave it to my hands. Fro,to: fro,to; over the polished knob (she knows his eyes, my eyes, her eyes) her thumb in finger passed in pity: passed, repassed and, gently touching, then slid so smoothly, slowly down, a cool white enamel baton protruding through their sliding ring."
And, just as Joyce plays with different literary styles, so Hamilton, who wanted, he said, "to make a pictorial equivalent of Joyce's stylistic leaps", makes comparably broad art historical references. The composition of Bronze by gold clearly refers both to Manet's A Bar at the Folies-Bergère (Courtauld Institute collection) and to the famous 16th-century nipple-tweaking portrait, Gabrielle d'Estrées and the Duchesse de Villars, in the Louvre.
Take his formidable image of the barmaids Miss Douce and Miss Kennedy, who personify Homer's Sirens. "Bronze by gold, miss Douce's head by miss Kennedy's head, over the crossblind of the Ormond bar..." Hamilton's double portrait Bronze by Gold was first drawn in 1949, and engraved in the 1980s. It is a coolly monumental image, recalling an even earlier manifestation of the pop impulse in art, Edouard Manet's Bar at the Folies Bergère (1882). The Bass beer the barmaid in Manet's painting serves is also drunk by characters in Ulysses. Where Manet's barmaid stands alone, her world doubled by the mirror behind the bar, Hamilton's Joycean barmaids are a twosome, embracing as they pull simultaneously on two phallic beerpulls. Their dresses, jewellery, well-coiffed hair and tough presence make them intimidating figures for the men at the bar. This is an image that gives reality the power of myth. There is nothing fanciful about it, yet this everyday encounter has a mystery that is a moment of epiphany.
In his celebrated collages, Richard Hamilton explored the relationship between fine art, product design, and popular culture, setting the stage for Pop art. His most iconic work, Just What Is it that Makes Today’s Homes So Different, So Appealing? (1956)—a scene comprised of images cut from magazines ads, showing a semi-nude couple in their living space—was produced for the groundbreaking exhibition “This is Tomorrow,” organized by the Independent Group at the Whitechapel Art Gallery in London in 1956. Throughout his career, Hamilton continued to break down hierarchies of artistic value, making silkscreens of Mick Jagger’s drug arrest, producing studies of industrial design objects (like toasters), and designing the cover of the Beatles’ 1968 White Album.
British, 1922-2011, London, United Kingdom