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British pop artist Richard Hamilton dies at 89

British Pop Art pioneer Richard Hamilton, who depicted Tony Blair as a cowboy and designed a Beatles album cover, has died. He was 89.
/ Source: The Associated Press

British Pop Art pioneer Richard Hamilton, who depicted Tony Blair as a cowboy and designed a Beatles album cover, has died. He was 89.

The Gagosian Gallery, which represents Hamilton, said the artist died early Tuesday at an undisclosed location in Britain. It did not give the cause of death.

The gallery said that with his death, "the art world has lost one of its leading figures." It said Hamilton's influence on younger artists was "immeasurable."

Hamilton was often called the "Father of Pop Art" — Britain's answer to Andy Warhol — and was credited with coining the name for a movement marked by its ironic and iconic use of commercial and pop-culture imagery.

Born in London in 1922, Hamilton studied at the Royal Academy Schools and the Slade School of Fine Art, and made his name in the 50s with "Just What Is It That Makes Today's Homes So Different, So Appealing?" A collage showing a physically idealized naked couple — the man holding a red lollipop marked "Pop" — in a product-strewn home, it was a seminal work of Pop Art.

For half a century Hamilton produced images that were striking and often political, from Mick Jagger in handcuffs after a drug raid to portraits of prison protesters in Northern Ireland to an image of former British leader Blair as a cowboy in a 2007 piece entitled "Shock and Awe."

One of his best-known works is the antithesis of Pop Art's colorful cacophony: the monochrome cover of The Beatles' "White Album," a simple white square embossed with the band's name. Hamilton also designed the collage-style poster that came with the album.

In an interview last year with The Guardian newspaper, Hamilton said he was "surprised how little" he was paid for the cover — only 200 pounds.

"I thought that was a bit mean," he said.

Hamilton also worked for decades on a mammoth project to illustrate James Joyce's novel "Ulysses."

He told The Guardian that acclaim had come because "I've lived longer than all my peers." But others saw him as a major artistic figure.

Tate director Nicholas Serota said Hamilton was "one of the most influential and distinctive artists of the postwar period."

"Greatly admired by his peers, including (Andy) Warhol and (Joseph) Beuys, Hamilton produced a series of exquisite paintings, drawings, prints and multiples dealing with themes of glamor, consumption, commodity and popular culture," Serota said.

Hamilton's work has been shown around the world, with pieces in major collections including New York's Metropolitan Museum and Museum of Modern Art and Britain's Tate galleries.

The Gagosian gallery said that until a few days ago Hamilton had been working on a major retrospective that will travel to Los Angeles, Philadelphia, London and Madrid in 2013-14.

He is survived by his wife, Rita Donagh, and son Rod. Funeral details were not immediately available.


Jill Lawless can be reached at: