Staring at art from the Tate's collection and thinking about it

Monday, 25 March 2013

$he - Richard Hamilton

Richard Hamilton, $he, 1958-61, oil paint, cellulose nitrate paint, paper and plastic on wood, 1330 x 944 x 98 mm,Tate.

Here we come to our first acknowledged masterpiece.  It's difficult to say much about Hamilton's pop-art oil/collage work of the '50s that hasn't been said before.  It's quite an easy image to read.  Consumer products, a woman reduced to the level of the commodities around her etc.  I guess what I find interesting is the treatment of the body.  The woman is dissolving.  Whereas Bacon emphasized the fleshiness of his subjects, here the figure is losing her physical reality, like Mike Teavee being turned into a television signal in Willy Wonka's factory.  This sense of the physical world breaking apart at a molecular level is mirrored in the image of the toaster, with the popping toast itself absent, instead represented by a series of dots showing its trajectory.  The work can be read as proto-Ballardian sci-fi, with the organic losing its essence in the white, clean, manufactured modern kitchen environment designed to serve it.  One key detail is the collaged eye staring out, as if there's someone trapped in a cyborg casing.  Half-woman, half-fridge, and the toaster blocks the exit.

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