The vintage worlds of fairgrounds, Victorian curios, cultural detritus and memorabilia have been Sir Peter Blake's passion for most of his life. He is considered the grandfather of British pop art, and is known for his most recognizable work, the iconic sleeve of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Now, at the age of 78, Blake still has not slowed, and with a couple of concurrent shows in London this month, he is on a rebound after his self-professed retirement following his Tate retrospectives in London (1983) and Liverpool Tate (2008) -- which he once presumed would cap his career. When I spoke with him recently at his London home, he told me that collecting has been his obsession since he was fourteen years old.
Exhibition#3, at Primrose Hill's Museum of Everything, "is a show about wanting to share everything", said Blake who put the exhibition together with curator James Brett. One of the highlights of the show is Potter's room, after Walter Potter, whose collection of Victorian taxidermy -- begun in 1861, Blake had helped retrieve. The collection which forms a curious tableau of stuffed animals has contributions from many Potter enthusiasts, including Damien Hirst.
Blake tells me he began his collection of Victoriana by rummaging scrap-yards after school as a teenager and had later become a habitué of flea markets in London's Chiswick and Portobello Road, where he is a familiar face to many stallholders.
"Homage 10x5," is an exhibition of Blake's own artworks in tribute to the ten artists who Blake feels have most influenced his art, like Joseph Cornell, Mark Dion, Damien Hirst, Henri Matisse, Jack Pierson, Robert Rauschenberg and Kurt Schwitters, among others. It opens at Waddington Galleries in London on November 17th, 2010.
Blake has always loved making collages, and his technique of appropriation is also a way of honouring artists who have inspired him. He uses butterflies, often associated with the artist Damien Hirst, in collages like Butterfly Man to create vintage postcard landscapes.
From my telephone conversations and meetings with Sir Peter (he does not like email), I had suspected he was in the camp of Luddites who eschew the digital world. Blake explained to me that he uses computers as a tool to assist him in the production of certain artworks, but emphasized that it was not the source of his imaginative process. As more and more of our recent history is digitized, our memories, correspondingly, build from digitally recorded sources (as expressed in the works of many digital artists, musicians and DJs today), but Sir Peter's art is a celebration and a sampling of found objects from the real world.