Overwhelming in many ways this huge retrospective provides as many excursions as there are rooms, and there are a lot of rooms! The exhibition catalogue is around 350 pages of images (including many not on show), sketches and essays which will provide a resource for some time to come. To take in all that was there would be a vainglorious exercise, if not impossible for one with so limited a vocabulary. What I will concentrate on is how I see Hamilton’s view of gender and the ‘other’ (female) as identity.
This image stopped me short. In it I recognise myself; I saw the institutionalised image of my desire – I wonder whether it was how Hamilton saw himself. The title ‘Fashion-plate study (a) self-portrait’ 1969 suggests that maybe he did but I haven’t found any direct reference to it as yet in the accompanying tome. I see the image of what I should expect from a societal perspective, from a female; a projection of how a beautiful sexually available female is represented: big lips, blond hair, suggestive wink, staring dilated pupil, ‘made-up and bare shouldered – she’s mine, should I desire. And of course as an object d’arts I can – just pay the man!
And here we have the ‘object’ stripped down to the bare essentials, the breasts are physical projections (providing the shadow detail on the image), she is displaying for the spectator, no expression to be concerned with, representative arms that are unlikely to fend away, stiletto shoes, stockings and the reflective glass connecting the viewer to the object. “Pin-up’ 1961 entering into the decade that suggested if you could remember it you weren’t there, the decade when sex began when for most it was still an illusion and was until the mid seventies (but that’s a different story). This image for me is a salutary lesson in the representation of the female, it seems to castigate the male for what it has done to the ‘other’ in diminishing it’s identity to a series of objects connected to perform a singular function. And talking of singular functions:
I seem to see another representation of the female, entitled ‘$he’ 1958-61, maybe this one is slightly more nuanced in that not only can she screw you but she can cook too, real dimensiality! A lot of his work around this period connected the female form to a presence within the domestic environment or to the boudoir. Looking at this through twenty twenty hindsight it appears to this viewer that Hamilton wasn’t wilfully mis-representing the female by subjugating them rather he was pointing out the frailties of the male perspective in that time, and then re-facing the present I wonder how far we have come? The Harry Callahan show that I took in on the same day as this certainly had the female in a passive role and those photographs were made in a similar period in history as these by Hamilton. The tube-ride to Marylebone had a number of men reading tabloids, the ‘page three Stunner’ is still there I noticed, the bill boards on the escalators have more explicitly sexually available women to gaze at as I rise at forty five degrees to the summit.
But I still remain confused at my reaction to this, or rather three images. This first, a study really, the title referring to an old British traditional view of the the foreign ‘other’ – don’t drink the water! has a recently formed steaming excreta purportedly on a piece of Jeyes toilet paper. Well ok.
But then this:
The study is introduced to the upper image. Is this irony? A study of confidence or a depiction of vulnerability?
It is further used in this:
‘Sunset 1975’. Well I can agree that most sunset pictures are (scatalogical references omitted) tedious and very regular in the photographers canon, but if that association is made then what association for the former images of the two young, attractive women. Not sure Richard, it’s a bit tricky Dickie for me, unless it is an equalising image? Trousers can, skirts can’t……
There were many very interesting rooms at this show; it asked a lot of questions of me as well as of the art on the walls, and on the floor. I have a very strong feeling that I shall come back to the catalogue again and again.