Sir Peter Thomas Blake is an English pop artist, best known for co-creating the sleeve design for the Beatles’ album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and designing the cover for Bob Geldof’s Band Aid single Do They Know It’s Christmas and the Live Aid promotional poster. His other notable work is with another famous British band The Oasis for whom he designed the album cover for Stop the Clocks. Although Andy Warhol was the one who brought art to the larger audience, many people consider Peter Blake to be the godfather of the movement. Besides paintings, he is also known for his interest in images taken from popular culture which is inserted into his collages.
Blake’s Early Life and Artworks
Born in 1932 in Dartford, Kent, Blake was educated at the Gravesend Technical College school of Art, and the Royal College of Art.
During the late 1950s, Blake became one of the best known British pop artists. He produced paintings with the feel of a collage. The artist’s biography ansd pieces include images from published works, news and advertisements, and music hall entertainment. Blake often painted wrestlers, and some of his pieces resemble advertisements or posters. In 1959, inspired by reproductions by Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns, Blake began to paint collage-like pictures of musicians and filmstars and to produce assemblages made of recycled material, postcards and other items. Alongside his collages Blake also worked with the medium of imitation: Painted collages, imitated pin-up-boards and locker doors, enlarged, painted postcard motifs and painted adaptations of posters appeared. In the Young Contemporaries exhibition of 1961 in which he exhibited alongside David Hockney and R.B. Kitaj, he was first identified with the emerging British Pop Art movement. Blake won the John Moores junior award for Self Portrait with Badges in 1961. He came to wider public attention when, along with Pauline Boty, Derek Boshier and Peter Phillips, he featured in Ken Russell’s Monitor film on pop art, Pop Goes the Easel, broadcast on BBC television in 1962. From 1963, Blake was represented by Robert Fraser placing him at the centre of swinging London and brought him into contact with leading figures of popular culture.
Blake became one of the best known British pop artists – he produced paintings with the feel of a collage
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and other Sleeve Designs
On the Balcony (1955–57) is a significant early work which remains an iconic piece of British Pop Art, showing Blake’s interest in combining images from pop culture with fine art. The work, which appears to be a collage but is wholly painted, shows, among other things, a boy on the left of the composition holding Édouard Manet‘s The Balcony, badges and magazines. It was inspired by a painting by Honoré Sharrer depicting workers holding famous paintings, Workers and Paintings. Blake painted several album sleeves. He designed the Beatles sleeve for Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in 1967, with his wife Jann Haworth, the American-born artist whom he married in 1963 and divorced in 1979. The Sgt. Pepper’s sleeve has become an iconic work of pop art, much imitated and Blake’s best-known work. Producing the collage necessitated the construction of a set with cut-out photographs and objects, such as flowers, centered on a drum (sold in auction in 2008) with the title of the album, which was a quick success. Blake has also made sleeves for the Band Aid single, Do They Know It’s Christmas? from 1984, Paul Weller’s Stanley Road from 1995 and the Ian Dury tribute album Brand New Boots and Panties. He also designed the sleeves for Pentangle’s Sweet Child and The Who’s Face Dances from 1981, which features portraits of the band by a number of artists. In 2015, Peter Blake has created the Everybody Razzle Dazzle design for the Snowdrop. Everybody Razzle Dazzle is the third in a series of Dazzle Ship commissions to mark the centenary of World War I, and was co-commissioned by 14-18 NOW, Liverpool Biennial and Tate Liverpool, in partnership with Merseytravel and National Museums Liverpool.
The Sgt. Pepper’s sleeve has become an iconic work of art, where the artists showed his immense love for the pop icons
Shakespeare and English Folklore
In 1969, Blake moved from London to Bath, where he became inspired by characters from Shakespearean plays and English folklore. In the early 1970s, he made a set of watercolour paintings to illustrate Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass using a young artist, Celia Wanless, as the model for Alice and in 1975 he was a founder of the Brotherhood of Ruralists. Blake moved back to London in 1979 and his work returned to earlier popular culture references. In 2006, Blake designed the cover for Oasis greatest hits album Stop the Clocks. Familiar cultural icons which can be seen on the cover include Dorothy from Wizard of Oz, Charles Manson (replacing the original image of Marilyn Monroe, which could not be used for legal reasons) and the seven dwarfs from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Blake revealed that the final cover wasn’t the original which featured an image of the shop Granny Takes A Trip on the Kings Road in Chelsea, London.
In 1969, Blake moved from London to Bath, where he became inspired by characters from Shakespearean plays and English folklore
Public Art Events, Awards and Exhibitions
In 2008, Blake painted a pig for the public art event King Bladud’s Pigs In Bath in the city of Bath. A fan of Chelsea Football Club, Blake designed a collage to promote the team’s home kit in 2010. He also designed a shopping bag for the Lucky Brand Jeans company for the holiday season. As part of ‘The Big Egg Hunt’ February 2012 Sir Peter Blake designed an egg on behalf of Dorchester Collection. Blake created the carpet which runs through the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom’s Middlesex Guildhall building. Around his 80th birthday, Blake recreated the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band cover art using pictures of people he had met throughout his life. He used computer software to produce the art, instead of the plywood pieces that were used to create the original design. In 2012, to mark his 80th birthday, an exhibition was held at Pallant House Gallery in Chichester to celebrate the artist’s long associations with music called Peter Blake and Pop Music. In 2014, Peter Blake exhibited his illustrations inspired by Under Milk Wood at National Museum Cardiff. His paintings have been on exhibited at the Tate Liverpool, the Sir Peter Blake Music Art Gallery in Leeds, and the Holburne Museum in Bath.
Blake’s new paintings have been on exhibited at the Tate Liverpool and the Sir Peter Blake Music Art Gallery in Leeds
Collector in Search of Cultural Trivia
Peter Blake became a Royal Academician in 1981, and a CBE in 1983; in 2002 he was knighted as a Knight Bachelor for his services to art. In 2011, Blake was awarded an honorary DMus from the University of Leeds, and marked by the public unveiling of his artwork for the Boogie For Stu album. On 18 July 2011, Blake was awarded an Honorary degree for Doctor of Art from Nottingham Trent University. Sir Peter Blake is known as a passionate collector always in search for the records of popular culture and news trivia, something that not only inspired his work, but it satisfied his passion as well.
The artist is represented by kunzt.gallery, The Cat Street Gallery and Weng Contemporary.
Peter Blake lives and works in Chiswick, London.
- Livingstone, M., Peter Blake: One Man Show, Lund Humphries, 2011
- Grunenberg, C., Peter Blake, Tate, 2007
- Blake, P., Peter Blake’s ABC, Tate, 2010
Featured image: Peter Blaker’s Portrait – image via flickr.com
All other images © the artist