Peter BlakeKing of Pop

Extraordinary vision, a collector’s eye, an innate sense of colour and composition, and oh yeah, the cover of one of the world’s most iconic albums all add up to make Peter Blake the legendary artist he is today.

 

SOMETIMES Peter Blake feels his name has morphed into “Peter Blake, famous for creating the sleeve of the Beatles’ album Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”. For that, sighs the Peter Pan of Pop Art, is how he’s always labelled.

The distinguished painter of stars and targets, Marilyns and Elvises, compiler of pop culture and creator of collages is actually Sir Peter Blake CBE and it’s more than 40 years since Sgt Pepper taught the band to play. Meanwhile, Blake has gone on making vibrant new work, some of which he brings to Edinburgh this summer.

Nonetheless, he remains the godfather of British Pop Art, for not only was he friends with the Beatles but he smoked and drank — he never did drugs — with everyone from the Stones to The Who and Eric Clapton. His entry in Who’s Who nowadays, though, has the coda, “Staying ahead of the avant-garde”.

He was 77 years old in June, and his avuncular beard may have turned white, but he’s still streets — or even piazzas – ahead, with shows such as his Venice Suite running at Edinburgh Printmakers until August 29.

The exhibition includes 20 new screenprints inspired by the mysterious city, misty-hued collages culled from postcards, old photographs, engravings, pictures from second-hand books and details from Old Masters, as well as illustrations from vintage children’s literature. So it’s a sort of magical history tour around the City of Light.

With his second wife, Chrissy, Blake went to Venice two years ago “to support Tracey [Emin] at the Biennale”. He’s close friends with all the Young British Artists but adores Emin and Damien Hirst since they remind him of himself at their age.

“I remember the older painters who helped me when I was young; I try to pass on that kindness. I think many artists like Damien and Tracey have been misjudged, so we wanted to be there for her when she was representing Britain at the Biennale.

“The last time I’d been to Venice was 1957, so it wasn’t as if I was a Venice-ophile. In fact, I’d forgotten how sinister the city can sometimes appear, how silent the gondolas can be gliding along a dark canal, and how it exudes an air of…” he searches for the word. Melancholia? “That’s it exactly!”

Exploring the city for eccentric found objects — his West London home and studio are bursting at the seams with his eclectic collections — he discovered an old set of postcards. “It was one those concertina packs that opens out and that was the starting point for this series. I used some of the original cards, others I photocopied to make the collages, which are rather macabre because that’s what Venice is like to me.

“I’d also just been awarded an artist’s medal by Cafe Forni in the city, so I felt I wanted to make a portfolio of work for them, too. It’s an ongoing project — I’ve made 20 screenprints of Paris, which I exhibit there in October. There’ll be a set on London, another on New York.”

Edinburgh? “Well, it is a world tour,” Blake replies.

Peter Blake – Venice  Edinburgh Printmakers 18 July – 29 August 10.00am – 6.00pm Free 0131 557 2479

If you like this try Veil of Tears at DeadMansClick Gallery, 1-31 August

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