When the Beatles wanted to design the image for their upcoming album Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967) they wanted the leading artist in British popular art to help them out. They turned to Peter Blake. The resulting image was one of the most iconic album covers ever.
Peter Blake had put in his dues for over a decade previously in advertising and fine arts. After his studies were interrupted by a three year stint in the RAF, he won the Leverhulme Research Award to continue his popular art studies throughout Europe. He won numerous awards for his artwork and had his first gallery show before the Beatles contacted him. In 2002, he was knighted.
Elements of Blake’s Artwork
Blake’s artwork derives heavily from advertising designs and commercial illustration. Designs at first appear simple but hide many complexities loaded with bright colors. His best known works sell a product, such as a record album or a handbag. Many of his pieces have a layered look as if placing one element on top of another, even if the artwork is done two dimensionally in just one medium.
Layers pop up again and again in Blake’s work. For example, one of his best known paintings is “On the Balcony” an oil painting done ca. 1956. It looks like a collage of objects laid down on a piece of green fabric. Perspective is disjointed. Are we looking down on the scene or are on the same level as the scene? It’s hard to tell. Objects like tables, magazines and framed photographs are placed on other objects. Are the figures dolls or people? It’s up to the viewer to decide.
Balancing Complexity and Simplicity
Many of Blake’s pieces are an image made up of many other smaller pieces of works. The Sergeant Pepper’s album cover, for example, was a scene made up of dozens of cardboard cutouts of famous people with the Beatles squeezed inside. Blake’s album cover for The Who’s “Face Dances” (1981) consisted of many separate portraits of The Who’s band mates. The complexity of many portraits is turned into one simple image.
Another example of balancing complexity and simplicity is “Girl in a Poppy Field” (1974). At first glance, it is a young smiling girl in a bright outfit against a red and green background. However, on closer inspection, the viewer sees that many pieces made up the whole. The work is done in screenprint, which consists of many small stencils placed on paper. The red blobs in the background are actually delicate poppy flowers.