peter blake: portraits and people

at wadding­ton cus­tot gal­leries 24 novem­ber 2015 – 30 jan­u­ary 2016


from the gallery:


wadding­ton cus­tot gal­leries are delight­ed to present peter blake: por­traits and peo­ple, the first exhi­bi­tion to focus on the artist’s por­trai­ture. select­ed by the artist, the exhi­bi­tion will fea­ture a sig­nif­i­cant group of new works along­side ear­li­er paint­ings which have nev­er been pre­vi­ous­ly exhib­it­ed, con­tin­u­ing his series of wrestlers and cir­cus acts as well as intro­duc­ing past por­trait com­mis­sions of notable friends and patrons. blake’s choic­es reveal his endur­ing fas­ci­na­tion with peo­ple, their per­son­al­i­ties and eccen­tric­i­ties. the exhi­bi­tion will offer a unique oppor­tu­ni­ty to view com­mis­sioned por­traits and gifts which have hung in pri­vate col­lec­tions and rarely been seen. on show for the first time is a por­trait of one of blake’s clos­est friends, and his deal­er since the six­ties, leslie wadding­ton, the fash­ion design­er paul smith and two por­traits of actor helen mir­ren, who sat for blake in the ear­ly eight­ies whilst star­ring in cleopa­tra. oth­er works loaned from pri­vate col­lec­tions include a por­trait of the musi­cian ian dury, who was taught by the artist in the six­ties and a dou­ble por­trait of the late british art col­lec­tor simon sains­bury and his part­ner stew­art grimshaw. por­trai­ture has been preva­lent in blake’s work since the late 1940s. from his images of pop cul­ture icons such as mar­i­lyn mon­roe, brigitte bar­dot and elvis pres­ley to his imag­ined char­ac­ters, the artist has always explored a diverse array of indi­vid­u­als. an exten­sion of blake’s fas­ci­na­tion with amer­i­ca and all things rock ‘n’ roll, the cen­tre­piece of this exhi­bi­tion will be the three-pan­elled elvis shrine: por­traits, land­scapes or still lifes? that blake has been work­ing on for over twen­ty years. icon­ic in scale, the work push­es por­trai­ture into a for­mat asso­ci­at­ed with reli­gious altar­pieces. fea­tur­ing elvis busts, por­traits and mem­o­ra­bil­ia, the work was inspired by the com­mon ques­tion asked by taxi dri­vers on dis­cov­er­ing blake is an artist – “what do you paint? land­scapes, por­traits or still lifes?” blake has giv­en each pan­el one of these themes; the images sur­round­ing the elvis para­pher­na­lia falling into its ascribed cat­e­go­ry. as well as por­trai­ture, the work extends into blake’s obses­sion with col­lect­ing and fan­dom. blake con­tin­ues his explo­ration of wrestlers; a major motif which has appeared in many guis­es through­out his career. a wrestling fan from child­hood, blake says, “i loved it imme­di­ate­ly. i loved the the­atre, the fan­ta­sy and the idea of good ver­sus evil.”[1] he began his first series of wrestlers in 1961 using pub­lic­i­ty shots from sports mag­a­zines and giv­ing each an invent­ed, hero­ic per­son­al his­to­ry. the water­colours in por­traits and peo­ple intro­duce ten new char­ac­ters to the the­atre and spec­ta­cle of wrestling, includ­ing krankie the klown (2015) and madame x (2015). blake’s por­traits of female wrestlers nod to his ear­li­er images of pin-up girls and hol­ly­wood sex sym­bols. a set of ten oil paint­ings focus sole­ly on female wrestlers; allur­ing in their beau­ty but still with a tough­ness and strength that push­es tra­di­tion­al gen­der bound­aries. blake will also present a series of small, colour­ful water­colours depict­ing the faces and tor­sos of heav­i­ly inked men and women. their indi­vid­ual body art, intri­cate­ly ren­dered, is again part of a recur­ring theme in blake’s oeu­vre: the cir­cus, the fair­ground and the side-show attrac­tion. the skins of these imag­ined char­ac­ters have become can­vas­es in them­selves – one fig­ure has an image of the cru­ci­fix­ion embla­zoned on his chest, whilst a tat­tooed woman has the names of the british princes, william and har­ry, etched on each breast. another’s com­plex facial tat­toos cov­er the entire­ty of his face, echo­ing the masks in blake’s wrestling por­traits. peter blake: por­traits and peo­ple will be accom­pa­nied by an exhi­bi­tion cat­a­logue with an essay by mar­co livingstone.”



wadding­ton cus­tot gal­leries, 11 cork street, lon­don W1S 3LT

mon­day to fri­day, 10am to 6pm, Sat­ur­day 10am to 1.30pm


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