Peter Blake made his name, art historically speaking, with collage—from the painted conglomeration of figures, reproductions of famous paintings, and Life magazine covers seen in his early work On the Balcony (1955-57) to his ubiquitous photo-collaged album cover for the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967). He reprises this technique with innovation and humor derived from decades of revised technique in The London Suite, a series of silkprints that depict wildly imaginative scenes on the streets of the British capital.
The London Suite is the latest installation of Blake’s “World Tour” series, which combines and re-presents vintage or stock imagery and allows cities such as Paris and Venice to be seen in a new, Pop-inflected light. London is shown through a series of postcard-style photographs of its most famous destinations, including Piccadilly Circus, Abbey Road and Hyde Park. In a 2010 interview, Blake tied his interest in such images to a lifelong passion for the detritus of the past and cited a desire to transform “something that is really mundane, that has no aesthetic sense, is nothing [before] this process.”1 This impulse was realized, he claimed, through the ephemera found on his excursions, scanned, and altered to produce the present series.
Each site in The London Suite is transformed through collage: in Westminster Abbey—Animalia, monkeys scale the Abbey’s gothic façade while cheetahs, elephants, and alligators gather before it. The absurdity of the scenario is enhanced by its basis in found photography—the original photograph includes two men strolling in formal wear—and the similar vintage of both the original and appended sources, which allows them to fuse subtly.
Other prints from the suite, such as Piccadilly Circus—The Convention of Comic Book Characters, more starkly juxtapose historical periods. In this image, London’s famous traffic junction has been fantastically overtaken by superheroes and other animated figures, who fly through the air, congregate and perch on the statue of Eros. In its ridiculousness, the comic book imagery that was, in Blake’s earlier days, symbolic of modernity and contemporaneity now simply conjures a genre of nostalgia just a few decades displaced from that of the vintage postcard itself. This juxtaposition of degrees of history is enhanced by the serial format of the suite as a whole. The viewer progresses from one past to another, and from one absurd scenario to another, without any sense of narrative progression or culmination. The screenprint technique, a longtime staple of Pop, contributes a mechanical, almost slick aesthetic that contrasts with the utter chaos seen within the prints and offers a tribute to the timeless irrationality of modern urban life.
- Interview between Nic McElhatton and Sir Peter Blake, Christies, 23 June 2012.