Peter Blake

I, Peter Blake

Here’s a cliché for you. ‘I know nothing about art, but I know what I like.’

Well, for me as a young man trying to make sense of the art I had begun to see around me, the work of Peter Blake meant just that. His art made sense to me, I just ‘got it’.

In truth, I would still struggle to say why exactly, but that isn’t really the point when you first discover a love for something is it? It’s just there.

If you are of a curious mind, and then endeavor to find out more about the artist, then in some ways their work is done, you are in.

I started to attend his art exhibitions which in turn opened up another world to me, and I then began to piece together more of his background.

Blake was born in Dartford in1932, to a working class family, dad an electrician and mum a nurse. Evacuated during the Second World War, he only returned to the area at the end of the conflict. Failing to get a place at the local grammar school, he went on to pass a drawing exam, which led him to attend the Gravesend Technical College.

He does his national service in the RAF from 1951 -53, before taking up the place at the Royal College of Art that was waiting for him upon discharge and attains a first class honours degree there in 1956.

With recent prize winning money in his pocket, he travels all over Europe in 1956 to 1957 before going on to win the prestigious John Moore’s junior prize in 1961, beating friend of John Lennon, and one time Beatles bass player, Stuart Sutcliffe that year.  John wasn’t happy about that and told Peter so many years later when their paths crossed.

His winning painting called ‘Self Portrait with Badges’ is seen as an early example of what then is becoming known as ‘Pop Art’. In it, Blake is seen wearing a double denim combination of jeans and jacket, which is covered in various pin badges.

An enormous fan of music from an early age, Blake reflected this in his paintings over the years, with work on Chuck Berry, LaVern Baker, Bo Diddley, The Beach Boys and The Beatles among many others.

That 1961 win catapults him to the attention of the UK media and in that year, he appears in an article in the first ever Sunday Times supplement and is then chosen to be one of the artists featured on the BBC film ‘Pop Goes The Easel’ made by maverick film director Ken Russell.

His con-current career as an art teacher finds him at the Walthamstow School of Art where one of his students is none other than future Blockhead, Ian Dury. It is the beginning of a beautiful and lifelong friendship

He married American artist Jann Howarth in 1963, with both represented by the agent Robert ‘Groovy Bob’ Fraser. He snares them the commission for the work on the cover for the forthcoming album ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ by The Beatles.  The crowd scene montage of many famous and in some cases infamous faces is undoubtedly his most famous work.

Personally though, my favourite of his, is the screen-print on pressed tin called ‘Babe Rainbow.’ He made 10,000 copies of this in 1967 and they sold at the time, for one pound each. Art for the masses indeed. If you can find an original today, expect to pay a little more than that.

The Sgt. Pepper work in particular, later brings him to the attention of the likes of singer Paul Weller who asks Peter to design the sleeve to his 1995 Album ‘Stanley Road.’ A few years from that, that other Beatles fan and now friend of Weller, Noel Gallagher, asks Mr. Blake to do the same for the ‘Best Of’ Oasis album ‘Stop the Clocks‘ in 2006.

Both of these works bring the name and work of Peter Blake to whole new generations and subsequently 2017 sees him as popular, and in demand as ever in this, his 85th year.

Sir Peter Blake was knighted for his services to art in 2002 and I have to say that is one official honours list award I have to agree with.

Not bad for a kid Straight outta Dartford

The Mumper of SE5