The Observer Newspaper, Food Monthly charity auction, 14 March 2004;
Private collection, United Kingdom
Peter Blake was born in Dartford, Kent, on 25 June 1932. He was educated at the Gravesend Technical College School of art, and the Royal College of Art, and pursued a career as an artist upon graduating.
By the late 1950s, Blake was one of the best known British pop artists. His paintings from this time included imagery from popular culture, such as advertisements and music hall entertainment, which often included collaged elements. Blake was included in group exhibitions at the Institute of Contemporary Arts and had his first solo exhibition in 1960. He was included in the ‘Young Contemporaries’ exhibition of 1961, in which he exhibited alongside David Hockney and R.B. Kitaj. Blake won the (1961) John Moores Junior award for Self Portrait with Badges. 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 artists’ agent Robert Fraser and came into contact with leading figures of popular culture.
Blake is perhaps best known for having painted the designs for several iconic album sleeves. For example, he and his wife, Jann Hawarth (also a painter), co-designed the sleeve for Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The Sgt. Pepper’s sleeve has become an iconic work of pop art, which is much imitated and Blake’s best-known work. Producing the collage necessitated the construction of an elaborate set with cut-out photographs and objects, such as flowers, centered on a drum, with the title of the album. Blake also designed sleeves for the Band Aid single, “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” (1984), Paul Weller’s Stanley Road (1995) and the Ian Dury tribute album Brand New Boots and Panties (2001); Blake was Dury’s tutor at the Royal College of Art in the mid-60s. He also made the album art for Pentangle’s Sweet Child and The Who’s Face Dances (1981), which features portraits of the band by a number of artists.
In 1969, Blake left London to live near Bath. His work changed direction to feature scenes based on English Folklore and characters from Shakespeare. 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.
In 1975, Blake founded the ‘Brotherhood of Ruralists.’ The group was based in Somerset, and sought to revive ‘traditional’ skills, predominantly in painting and watercolour, as well as mixed media assemblage, printmaking, and ink and pencil drawing. They mostly depicted subject matter from nature, and their work was very figurative. The Ruralists movement has been called ‘a late twentieth century reinvention of William Morris’ Arcadian craft guilds.’
Perhaps due to commercial pressure, Blake moved back to London in 1979 and he returned to work with earlier popular culture references once again. Since then, Blake’s work continues to be copied, popularised and sold. He has received countless accolades, including being named as a Royal Academician in 1981, and received a CBE in 1983. He continues to create art and iconic album cover designs to this day.