Now over sixty. Richard Hamilton‘s denim jacket has bleached white from blue. In keeping with that style. the beard on his long disciplined face has grown to match. With the presence of someone who is used to being heard. his voice is trimmed to the essentials. Soft. almost Iisping. Wine being drunk and small talk
‘ loudly filling the Fruitmarket Cafe on opening night minus one. my confidence in my adequate but middle-of—the-range tape-machine dwindled. My subject was willing to speak into the gadget. but his voice had designs of its own.
When Richard Ilamilton says ‘style‘ he whispers the word like it‘s a secret. He's an expert. For over thirty years he has been shaping style in all forms and ambiguities into prints and paintings.
In the Fifties he dug into popular culture. examining real life behind the bumperof advertising. He painted a toaster as ‘Toastum' and a pinnied lady as \"enus with her ‘cornucopic‘ Fridgedaire. The Sixties popped in with a visit to America and his paintings swang with the space race. He designed the Beatles white double album and giveaway insert. making art by the million. During that decade when politics and morality were shifting sands. Hamilton used the Rolling Stone Mick Jagger to throw light on the absurdity of a law which jailed for self-abuse with drugs. In the Seventies. his exhibition of lyrical Andrex rolls and life-like turds caused a ripple when it reached Edinburgh. a city where bottoms are kept out of the cold. How to press a thousand words out of such an intoxicating brew of a man‘.’
As he made for a busy corner table. I successfully steered him away to the exhibition downstairs. Music poured from his painting with the built-in working stereo system. the Lux Sfl-f‘unctioning prototype 1979. It switched off neatly. so I switched on my tape and hoped for the best. We sat down in the Mies van der Rohe chairs. steel with brown leather. borrowed from the Royal Bank of Scotland. and here part of his installation. Sure enough it was cold. Hamilton had his coat on. Mine was upstairs. I smiled with waiting room nerves. Though there was a large. low glass table between us it seemed that there was no space for questions.
Reliefcame when the door opened on computers. The sveldt black computer he designed for ()HI() Scientific in 1986 was behind us. His own he describes as a friend. ‘I have become a computer buff.‘ he confesses broadly. He tells the story ofhis initiation like a proverb.‘ When I first began to move around in Europe I found that people didn‘t speak English and since I‘m monolingual wherever I went there were barriers. Then I found as time went by. that more and more people I encountered spoke English. especially young people. But there was always a generation gap — people in their Sixties had decided that it was not worth their while learning English. There are not enough years
Still moving with the times. the great Sixties pop artist.
Richard Hamilton. has now moved into computers. Alice Bain met him.
to make it worthwhile.
‘When I was reaching sixty". he chuckles at the thought. ‘I decided if, there was one language I was going to learn it was how to handle computers. I began to get seriously involved. Then there was a breakthrough. Afterabout 18 months. I realised I had an intimacy with that language. It was very important to feel that I was no longer in the cold — l was out there with the young ones.‘
He makes his age enviable. Denim is white. but his commitments are still on earthbound duty. As artist. young man and old. he has not, climbed and descended the mid-life hill. He has followed ideas along the ﬂats.
We're still on computers. I discover that ‘user-friendly‘ far from being enticing should spell danger. ‘Menus limit your choices. It should be possible for each individual to create an environment for himself and control it. Most commercial people would like everyone to be able to use a computer without any prior knowledge. whereas no one could use my computer without spending a hell of a long time trying to work out what I‘ve been doing all these months. I feel people should get sufficiently involved to treat it as a language.‘
Process and procedure. Having talked about computerised ways to keep the bank manager guessing. I venture to ask about two major inﬂuences in his work. James Joyce and Marcel Duchamp. I leapt at it without precision. Hamilton checked the question and was back in control. He would deal with the two in isolation. Their paths did not cross in his work. First came Joyce.
‘1 was astonished by Joyce‘s
virtuosity at using different styles. the way he could move from one stylistic language to another. I like to think that the way I respond to this idea ofstyle is a major feature of my thinking about art. Also. in the sense that I wouldn‘t necessarily be interested in creating a style that was my own. I avoided this concept that every artist has an identifiable way of going about things.‘ Upstairs. the exhibition of drawings. prints and paintings collects his views of Ulysses. ‘I never imitated Joyce's work but I imitated his procedures. I can‘t think that I ever imitated any work by Duchamp.‘
In 1963 that first trip to America was to visit a retrospective exhibition ofsixty years work by Duchamp. the father of the Dada movement. ‘What I admired was that his mind was so sharp — its invention. the precise way with which he solved philosophical problems about art. I thought there was something very wonderful about his lack ofconcern for the appearance of the work of art which he produced.‘ And about the man'.’ ‘He was the person I most enjoyed being with. It wasn’t a question of sparkling conversation. Ifl wasjust sitting with Duchamp smoking a cigar that would be a kind of heavenf
For a man so involved with style. this life-long admiration ofthe iconoclast Duchamp might seem strange. ‘Duchamp always went in opposition to the general run of things. In 1908 he got disgusted by the kind of art that was being produced in Paris. the smell of turpentine. Monmartre. artists in floppy hats and smocks. So he wipeu the whole thing out. After he died I thought how can I respond most directly to his ideas'." Other devotees
of Duchamp eschewed fine art techniques and moved into an area that became called conceptual art ‘just mind and no artifacts’. But
I Iamilton felt the idea of Duchamp as master should be resisted and to be true to him he should do the opposite. ‘I'm interested in the way things look.‘ he says quietly. ‘I‘ve tried to make things which are interesting to look at and interesting tothinkabout.‘ ‘
We are sitting in a Hamilton foyer.
Like most ofhis subjects. interiors have been recycled throughout his career. ‘ringing the changes ofstyle‘. He paints them. prints them. constructs them — like a scientist mixing chemicals in a tube. he places no limitations on the number of blends possible. Beside us are the open doorways of three Hamilton interiors: l. (‘itizen 19812111 Irish hunger striker in his shit-smeared cell. 2. Lobby 1987. hotel hospitalin at its shiniest and bleakest. 3. Treatment Room 198-1. Margaret Thatcher speaks over the crumpled blanket of an operating table. Despite the chilling undertones. the Labour Party apparently felt it unfair when this piece was exhibited in Wales. that all parties were not getting equal publicity? Hamilton laughs.
The cold got us up and we talked for a while about the nature of his painting for Langan's restaurant in London. Ulysses moved back into view. Was Leopold Bloom circumcised or not'.’ It mattered if you were painting him in his bath. Hamilton slowly searched through the book to show me the answer. His enquiry leaves no word unturned. My pile ofquestions were hardly dented. but just to sit with Richard Hamilton was special.
Richard Hamilton '5 exhibition is a! (he Fruitmarker (Jul/cry. Edinburgh. See A rt.
The List I -— 1-1 April 19889