Sir Peter Blake, In conversation with Richard Cork
Words, Jessica Fenna
Often dubbed the founder of British pop art, the renowned artist, Peter Blake has been bestowed with Liverpool’s highest honour, he has been declared ‘an honorary scouser,’ whilst it has been announced that ‘Everybody Razzle Dazzle’ will be extended for a further two years. Liverpool Biennial organised an event to showcase Peter Blake’s work and life, ‘In conversation with Richard Cork’.
The form of the event suited Blake’s relaxed and informal style, allowing for fascinating insights into the artist’s psyche and mode of working. Blake was introduced by Lord Mayor Roz Gladden, who indicated that Blake’s popularity in the city can be attributed in part to the city’s longstanding tradition of embracing the ‘quirky, ’ Liverpool has often taken public artwork to heart, transmuting them into public icons, which can often be seen emblazoned on tourist paraphernalia on sale across the city.
The conversation began with a discussion of the origins of ‘Everybody Razzle Dazzle;’ renewed by Liverpool Biennial for a further two years. The Liverpool ferry ‘Snowdrop’ will further be adorned with the bold, vibrant colours of Blake’s op-art design. Op-art was used in the First World War as a submarine defence system. Given that the project was commissioned for the centenary of the advent of the first world war Blake wished to commemorate the event, suggesting during the talk that the original designs had been more sombre affairs than the finished product.
Cork astutely pointed out that even staunch haters of contemporary art can understand the history and significance of op-art. In this manner it is a highly successful piece of public contemporary art, it has been so widely embraced by the people of the city and beyond.
Blake spoke of his first foray into art, almost completely by chance, when he enrolled in the local technical college to become an electrician, where it was suggested he try out for the art school round the corner. He had never drawn until this point, speaking briefly of the wartime rations; acquiring the implements to draw with were nigh impossible regardless of the lack of encouragement to work creatively at the time.
‘It was grim’ he stated, but he did not wish to dwell on such matters. Blake’s work can be read as an opposing response to this period; with its colour and abundance, his work finds the joy of living in the moment.
Inevitably the conversation turned to the infamous Sgt Pepper artwork, with the album celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. Blake described the difficult working process, the work being a surprisingly expensive affair – the image is not merely a collage but rather a series of life size cut outs and waxworks borrowed from Madame Tussauds. Blake has been conspicuous in his absence from the celebrations. Cork raised the sensitive issue of price, with some coaxing Blake revealed that he was paid a mere £200 for the work whilst his friend and dealer Robert Fraser signed away his rights to the image (Blake quipped that Fraser was most likely stoned at the time, though as he also pointed out Fraser is now dead so unable to sue). Fraser was deemed to be Blake’s agent and could therefore sign on his behalf despite Blake having no idea of the contract’s existence.
‘It was a sore point,’ Blake admits, though over time that had faded, only to be brought to the surface again with the anniversary celebrations.
Beyond this, Blake further discussed his rich and varied career and personal life (from his introduction to Andy Warhol based on their shared love of collecting fairground paraphernalia and his disappointing lunch with Marlon Brando to his admiration of Richard Dadd and his belief that everyone has a reason to paint).
The personality behind the colourful paintings came to the fore, the rapport between Blake and Cork made for an open, relaxed and insightful discussion. (Blake at one point remarked that the two men had had their differences with Cork having previously been critical of his work).
Throughout the exchange Blake reaffirmed his love of the city and his happiness at having returned. The Dazzle Ferry has become a much loved icon in Liverpool’s cultural fabric. It is testament to thriving arts and cultural scene of the city that it has attracted such an iconic name who continues to give his support to Liverpool.
To find out more information on the project, visit http://www.biennial.com/