BB Rainbow

Sir Peter Blake, a painter of urban realist subjects and pioneer of Pop art, was born in Dartford, Kent in 1932 into a lower-middle class family. Blake studied at the Gravesend School of Art from 1948-51 and then spent two years doing National Service in the Royal Air Force before attending the Royal College of Art from 1953 to 1956, where his contemporaries included Bridget Riley and Frank Auerbach. Blake received a Leverhulme Research Award to study popular art, taking him to Holland, Belgium, France, Italy and Spain for a year from 1956 to 1957. He went on to teach at St Martins School of Art, London (1960-62), Harrow School of Art (1960-63), Walthamstow School of Art (1961-64) and the Royal College of Art (1964-76). By the late 1950s, Blake was one of the best known British pop artists, making paintings that included imagery from music hall entertainment and wrestling matches, such as in Masked Zebra Kid (1965). Many of these works include collaged elements taken from glamour pictures, photographs of film stars, posters, album covers and advertisements. In 1961 he obtained First Prize in the John Moore Exhibition, Liverpool, for Self-Portrait with Badges. Blake had his first one-man exhibition at the Portal Gallery in London in 1962. On the Balcony (1955-57) is a significant early work that stands as one of the iconic pieces of British Pop Art, showing Blake's interest in combining images from pop culture with fine art. The work, which appears to be a collage but is in fact wholly painted, depicts a boy holding Edouard Manet's painting The Balcony surrounded by numerous badges and magazines. It was inspired by an Honor Sharrer canvas showing workers holding famous paintings. Blake confronts the viewer with a flat perspective, effectively blocking the viewer from venturing deeper into the picture plane. One of the most striking aspects of the piece is its child-like artlessness, which leads the viewer to question the significance of modern cultural mores. Blakes characters are strangely static and hardly seem to notice the bombardment of cultural baggage and imagery that surrounds them. Another painting that refers to the work of other artists is The First Real Target (1961). The canvas depicts a real archery target stuck to a board with the title of the work written across the top of it, shadowing the paintings of targets made by Kenneth Noland and Jasper Johns. In addition to paintings and collages, the artist's work extends across a diverse range of media including watercolour, drawings, prints and sculpture. As well as the sleeve for Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967), Blake has made sleeves for the Band Aid single, "Do They Know It's Christmas?" (1984), Paul Weller's Stanley Road (1995) and the Ian Dury tribute album Brand New Boots and Panties (2001). He also designed the sleeve for The Who's Face Dances (1981), which features portraits of the band by a number of artists. In the early 1970s, he made a set of watercolours to illustrate Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass. In 1975 he was a founding member of the Brotherhood of Ruralists, along with Jann Haworth, Ann and Graham Arnold, David Inshaw and Annie and Graham Ovenden. They first exhibited as a group in the Royal Academys Summer Exhibition in 1976 and had a major group exhibition at the Arnolfini Gallery, Bristol in 1981, touring to Birmingham, Glasgow and the Camden Arts Centre, London.