Keith Haring at Tate Liverpool

Last Saturday we travelled over to Liverpool to take a look at the latest exhibition at the Tate on Albert Dock. It’s had a lot of good reviews so I wanted to see for myself what the fuss was about. I didn’t know a great deal about the artist, Keith Haring, but had seen some of his works, probably most notably his large canopy was hanging in the ceiling of the stairwell in the grand hallway of the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam during a visit last year. He’d painted it for a solo exhibition at the museum in 1986.


So, the extensive Tate retrospective was a good opportunity to find out more about the artist. The exhibition was busy (but not crazy busy like some of the blockbusters held in London), so it was clearly popular. But there was plenty of space to allow us to take time to look at the paintings and reflect on them.

The Tate exhibition website tells us

A part of the legendary New York art scene of the 1980s, Keith Haring (1958–1990) was inspired by graffitipop art and underground club culture.

Haring was a great collaborator and worked with like-minded artists such as Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat. All were interested in creating art for the many. Haring designed record covers for RUN DMC and David Bowie, directed a music video for Grace Jones and developed a fashion line with Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood. In doing so, he introduced his art and ideas to as many people as possible.

Tate Liverpool website

The exhibition covered the whole of the top floor of the Tate and there were a large number of works on display from the whole of his career, including these two early works when he was influenced by Walt Disney cartoons. And cartoon like figures and symbols were prominent in his work throughout his career. Unlike most Tate paid exhibitions photography was allowed.

When he moved to New York, he became known for chalk drawings he produced on the black paper on empty poster spaces in subway stations; drawing quickly as people walked past and stopping to watch him. There was a video in the exhibition of him doing just that and then getting arrested! The pictures became popular that they were taken away almost as soon as they were finished. There were a few examples in the exhibition, although they were difficult to photograph due to reflections in the glass protecting them.

He’d paint on almost anything he could lay his hands on, like this Yellow Taxi bonnet (or “hood” as our American friends would say!)

and quite a few works on display were painted on tarpaulins – a lot cheaper than canvas.

A number of icon like symbols recur throughout his works, including a crawling baby, a dog, a figure with a whole in its stomach, a cross, computers and some others. Most of his work contain one or more. There’s a good discussion of the symbols and what they represent here, and the Tate provide a key in the free booklet you’re given as you enter the gallery.

He was a political artist and many of his works carry a message, whether about nuclear energy, South African Apartheid, gay rights, racism or drugs.

And, as a gay man living in New York in the 1980’s, he used his art to raise awareness of AIDS. He himself was diagnosed with the disease in 1988. His poster Ignorance = Fear refers to the challenges people who were living with AIDS faced. 

Here’s a few more examples of his work

Before the visit, I was a little sceptical about the exhibition. I knew about his cartoon like paintings and thought it would be fun, but that I’d have tired of it after seeing a selection of them. But that wasn’t how it worked out. Despite the apparent simplicity of his style, there was a lot more depth and complexity than I expected.

There was a lot to see – besides the paintings there were a number of videos about his life and work – so there was too much to take in in one visit. One advantage of being Tate Members is that we can hopefully go for another look before the exhibition finishes in November.

Painting Pop at Abbot Hall


A couple of weeks ago, at the end of my week off work, we drove over to Kendal to visit the latest exhibition at Abbot Hall. which

celebrates British Pop Art from the early 1960s, including work by Sir Peter Blake, Pauline Boty, Patrick Caulfield, Richard Hamilton, David Hockney and Allen Jones borrowed from major collections such as Tate, National Portrait Gallery and Government Art Collection.

The 1960’s was when society began to change. Wartime austerity was behind us, National Service had ended and there was an explosion of creativity in music and the arts. The 50’s had been grey, the 1960’s were full of colour. Old ideas were being questioned and revolution was in the air. Mind you, I grew up in the 60’s in a small industrial town in Lancashire and I have to say most of this passed me by, but watching the news gave us glimpses of what was happening in that distant country called London and the rest of the world.

The Tate website tells us that Pop Art

began as a revolt against the dominant approaches to art and culture and traditional views on what art should be. Young artists felt that what they were taught at art school and what they saw in museums did not have anything to do with their lives or the things they saw around them every day. Instead they turned to sources such as Hollywood movies, advertising, product packaging, pop music and comic books for their imagery

Probably the most well known exponents of Pop Art are the Americans, Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and Jasper Johns, but this exhibition concentrates on British artists. It shows the contribution they made to the style.

The exhibition focuses on 1962, the year of Ken Russell’s documentary ‘Pop Goes the Easel’ featuring Peter Blake, Pauline Boty, Derek Boshier and Peter Phillips, which was broadcast as part of the BBC’s Monitor arts strand.

No photos allowed in the exhibition but these are some Press Images that show some of the paintings on display.



Probably one of the most famous Pop Art works is Andy Warhol’s series of prints of Marilyn Monroe. She also features in a painting by Pauline Boty Colour Her Gone which is used on the poster for the exhibition. It’s a more conventional portrait than Warhol’s image and the actress comes across more as a human being.


As part of the exhibition the gallery have recreated a 1960’s living room. Probably more representative a of a trendy middle class home than the one I grew up in, but it certainly brought back memories. The wallpaper, record player, television set, telephone and sideboard were all evocative of the period.


To complement Painting Pop, Abbot Hall is also showing Hockney’s complete print series A Rake’s Progress. It was inspired by a trip he made to New York and “the Rake” has more than a passing resemblance to the artist himself.


Patrick Caulfield at Abbot Hall


The first exhibition of the year at Abbot Hall this year features the work of the British artist often considered (although not by him) to be one of the founders of “Pop Art”. It’s on until the end of March so we finally made the trip up to Kendal to see it last Saturday, three weeks before it is due to finish at the end of March.

Caulfield is well known for producing paintings and prints with simplified images of everyday objects depicted very simply with flat, un-naturalistic, colours – often dominated by a single hue – outlined with a thick black line. The picture above, Sweet Bowl (1967), which Abbot Hall have used on materials advertising the exhibition, being very typical.

The Tate website sums up his style

In the early 1960s Caulfield’s painting was characterised by flat images of objects paired with angular geometric devices or isolated against unmodulated areas of colour. He adopted the anonymous technique of the sign painter, dispensing with visible brushwork and distracting detail and simplifying the representation of objects to a basic black outline in order to present ordinary images as emblems of a mysterious reality. He deliberately chose subjects that seemed hackneyed or ambiguous in time: not only traditional genres but self consciously exotic and romantic themes and views of ruins and the Mediterranean.

Of the works on display this one,  Pottery (1969), was one of my favourites


Although the painting is very “flat”, it someone doesn’t seem two dimensional. The varying size of the different pots and the use of different colours, seems to provide a sense of depth. And a few of the pots, the ones painted purple, have some sense of “texture” in the way the paint is applied, differently than than all the others.

Although most of the works  included in the exhibition  from the 1960’s were prints and paintings created in this poster like style, there were some exceptions. Vases of Flowers (1962) had been painted on board using household paints. The flower heads  are realistic and appear 3 dimensional, and in some respects jar with the “flat”  vases and background.


The exhibition included some later period paintings such as Hemingway never ate here from 1999, very late in his career


It’s quite different from the earlier works from the 1960’s. It’s almost Surreal in style (quite apt as the next exhibition at Abbot Hall will feature works by British Surrealists). I’m not sure that I like it. I find the colours quite muddy and I have only a limited affection for Surrealist works. They often leave me cold as, indeed, does this one.

I much prefer his flat colourful paintings and prints. Another work from 1999 which I did like, and was one of my favourites in the exhibition, was his screenprint, a take on Picasso’s “Demoiselles d’Avignon” – Les Demoiselles d’Avignon vues de derrière. The title says it all.

Patrick Caulfield, ‘Les Demoiselles d'Avignon vues de derrière’ 1999

Caulfield has reversed Picasso’s image so that instead of viewing the women frontally, we peer at them from behind. The reversal of this image is both a visual pun on the printing process, which reverses the original design, and a verbal pun on the French word derrière, which means rear end. (Tate website)

This wasn’t my favourite of the exhibitions I’ve seen at Abbot Hall. I like the colourful poster like paintings and prints, but in a rather ephemeral way. They are pleasing to look at, but only hold interest for a short while.

On a final note, while researching Caulfield on the Interweb following the visit, I discovered a very local connection. Although  was born in Acton, west London. During the second world war Caulfield’s family returned to Bolton, where his parents were born, to work at the De Havilland factory at Lostock, near Horwich and  today’s Reebock Stadium, which is only 5 miles from where I live.

Peter Blake at the Lowry

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I hadn’t been keeping an eye on what was going on at the Lowry at Salford Quays. But when I spotted in a post by John of Notes to the Milkman that they were showing an exhibition of works by Peter Blake inspired by pop music, Peter Blake and Pop Music, I thought I should get along before it finishes at the end of February. So we drove over to Salford Quays last Saturday and called into the Lowry to take a look at the exhibition.

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To be honest, I didn’t know that much about Peter Blake’s art. I guess’ like most people I’m mainly aware of his iconic design of the cover of the Beatle’s Sergeant Pepper album. And, of course, that featured in the exhibition.

File:Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.jpg

Picture source: Wikipedia

I was also aware of his cover design for another album I own, Paul Weller’s Stanley Road.

Stanley Road - album cover

And he has designed album artwork for a number of other bands, and many of them featured in the exhibition together with other works inspired by pop and rock musicians

The exhibition website explains

Blake has worked closely with some of the most influential musicians of his generation, most famously co-creating the iconic album cover for the Beatles’ Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. In more recent years his designs for albums by Paul Weller, Eric Clapton and Oasis are equally celebrated, and are shown here against a soundtrack of killer pop music. Peter Blake is a true fan, and this exhibition is a compelling tribute to one of Britain’s most important artists.

The first picture you see on entering the exhibition is his Self-portrait With Badges (1961), featuring the artist wearing his denim jeans and a denim jacket covered with badges, wearing Converse trainers and holding an Elvis album.

Moving round the exhibition space, there were pictures and collages inspired by performers he admired, including several featuring Elvis Presley– Blake was clearly a massive fan. A number of these works were collages and mixed media incorporating “found objects”. There were a number of references to Marcel DuChamp who was clearly a major influence on his work.

One of my favourites in this section was his oil painting on wood and mirror glass featuring Lavern Baker. I also liked his print of Chuck Berry in his trademark “duck walk” pose. Blake had incorporated diamond dust into this print and he’s used this in a number of the other works on display.

One room featured prints and paintings of his album art and items related to the Beatles and the Sergeant Pepper album cover. It’s hard to believe that he only received a flat fee of £200 for his design. Of course that was a significant sum in the late 1960’s, but given the number of sales of the album I couldn’t help but feel he’d been treated badly.

Another rock artist Blake was connected with was Ian Drury, who’d been a student of Blake at Waltham Forest College. The two became friends and Blake produced album covers for him and painted his picture. Dury wrote a song in honour of Blake – “Peter the painter” – which featured on his album, “4,000 Weeks’ Holiday”. 

No photography was allowed, but he gallery have  Flickr site which includes a set of pictures from the exhibition (including the above photograph).

I’m glad I found the time to go over to see this exhibition. Peter Blake is an important British artist and this was a good opportunity to see some of his work. And as a music fan myself, I the themes certainly resonated with me.