Toni Clayton, American Pop & Modern Specialist
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Blake's eclectic visual work makes reference to the big brands and celebrities of his time. Blake was one of the first British artists to adopt this distinctly American-inspired Pop approach, established by Andy Warhol.
When studying at Gravesend School of Art, Blake trained in wood engraving, silversmithing, and a range of other crafts. After his time here, Blake went on to study graphic design at the Royal College of Art before he was eventually accepted by the paintings school. Blake's training as a graphic designer is clearly apparent in his thoughtfully considered compositions.
Though Blake makes deliberate reference to pop culture icons of his time, he also classical British painting by the likes of Thomas Gainsborough. In his Self-Portrait With Badges, Blake stages his self-portrait with pop culture props rather like 17th century portrait paintings.
Blake moved to Bath in 1969, and gradually turned his attention from figures of mass media to British folklore and Shakespeare. As well as these more historic sources of inspiration, he also increasingly created works inspired by Through The Looking Glass.
In 1967, The Beatles prepared to release their eight studio album, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. With art-direction by Robert Fraser, the album cover art was designed by Blake and his then-wife Jann Haworth. The cover is considered one of the most iconic in history, and pictures the "fab four" surrounded by 70 of their heroes.
Back in 2002, Blake was recognised for his contributions to British art, and was invited to Buckingham Palace to receive his knighthood.
In the late 1960s, around the same time Blake moved to Bath, he established an art group called The Ruralists. This group of like-minded creatives sought to capture the beauty of everyday life in rural British areas, a quiet contrast to his earlier Pop works.
With figures, motifs, and logos haphazardly positioned across his compositions, Blake's works appear like a tapestry of famed things and people in pop culture.
Though references to contemporary pop culture phenomena is integral to Blake's work, he is also keen to allude to the traditions of art history. His seminal work On The Balcony, for example, references a famous painting by Edouard Manet and reveals Blake's constant mingling of past and present in his work.
Throughout his works, Blake points towards the memorable logos and faces of pop culture. His tapestry-like works prove how ingrained these motifs and symbols are in our collective consciousness, and are a truly Pop expression of the effect of mass media in our lives.