Peter Blake, POP at Hang-Up Gallery

Officially anointed as the godfather of pop, often overshadowed by Sergeant Pepper and plagued by endless comparisons to Warhol, Peter Blake fans can at least find solace in a modest yet playfully unusual exhibit which displays a ‘rare and quirky’ collection of the British artist’s print and canvas collection from the last couple of decades.

‘We didn’t want you to immediately think it’s him,’ according to the Hang-Up Gallery, which finds itself unassumingly sandwiched on Stoke Newington’s High Street. And while that can be said of some of the pieces on display such as D is for Dwarves and Midgets, one of his rare 1991 series of alphabet letters where he uses a collection of antique postcards to create a collage of people of short stature together. With U is for Unusual People, again weirdly wonderful, reflecting Blake’s fascination and fondness; yet not a sense of ridicule, with outsiders and misfits in that same circus freak show ilk.

Meanwhile others are still instantly recognisable, which is good. Like your favourite band; listening to new material is always exciting but you still want to be peppered with the more obvious hits too.

In Butterflyman Vicky Trio 2010, we see Blake continues his fascination of combining crowds of unlikely characters that started with Sgt Pepper; a crowd overload, weaving black and white and colour tapestry. This also highlights his evident captivation with butterflies, a motif of his recent work; also reflected in another silk screen collage The Butterfly Man in Tokyo Homage to Damien Hirst canvas – again classic Blake.

We also get to see Blake’s affection for childhood nostalgia in Cinema Club, Matchboxes, Penholders and Homage to Rauschenberg. All demonstrating sweet, innocence, sentimentality and warmth with a penchant for collectors’ items/memorabilia, tapping perhaps into his childhood obsessions as well as hints of a nod to Americana.

As a quintessential pop artist, obviously the stars and stripes country cannot be ignored and here we are treated to his retro appreciation for classic pop icons Marilyn and Elvis in Marilyn’s door and American Trilogy, albeit not in a Warhol-esque fashion, but rather, in a simple unadulterated adoration way; Monroe’s face in a blue door with a star and numbered 1.

Yet, what makes Blake stand out from his peers is his innate Britishness and wit which inevitably goes hand in hand. Nothing proves this more than Paris – Chicken Act, with a Monty Python lampooning feel. Here Blake returns to his circus theme by having chickens and cockerels re-enact the human tower of 10 Man Upright and Four Man Up. The cockerel is of course a symbol of France; perhaps a little tongue in cheek reference to the Gallic love of display. His use of animals for comedic purposes continues with Paris – Monkey and Paris – Lowering Elephants where the sight of elephants flying through the air could be referring to the Disney song When I see an Elephant Fly.

However, the entire collection can be easily summed up, like his vividly coloured I Love You canvas, as one punter put it, ‘Bold and simple’.

POP is showing until 27 October 2013 at:

Hang-Up Gallery
56 Stoke Newington High Street
Stoke Newington
N16 7PB

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