Waddington Custot is to present NEW WORK: Peter Blake, the fourth iteration of the gallery’s digital exhibition series. The NEW WORK initiative was launched online earlier this year to premiere and showcase painting and sculpture by significant contemporary artists.
NEW WORK features a collection of figurative portraits in miniature; lockdown measures implemented in London this year created the space for Blake to return to these paintings in oil, which he began five years ago. Blake, fascinated since childhood by miniaturisation and an avid collector of toys, tiny curios and quirky objects, dares himself to paint these intricate, precise works as small as he can. Each painting features a portrait of an imaginary woman, close-cropped to the frame and confronting the viewer directly with an intense gaze. Overlaid images of Disney characters as ‘tattoos’ on the women, which Blake recalls have been ‘mischievously’ incorporated into the paintings, add a playful, dreamy quality to the works, which appear at once real and surreal. These motifs, like the component parts of the faces themselves, are found emblems, taken from Blake’s vast bank of collected images.
NEW WORK: Peter Blake features the artist’s smallest work to date, which measures just 5.8 x 4.6 cm, about half the size of a conventional playing card. Blake often experiments with scale, particularly in relation to portraiture: during lockdown the artist also completed his largest ever painting, which will feature in Waddington Custot’s forthcoming solo exhibition of the artist, opening in late spring 2021. Blake’s images of pop culture icons such as Marilyn Monroe, Brigitte Bardot and Elvis Presley are often enlarged to epic proportions, reminiscent of that of an altar piece. In contrast, these intimate depictions of composite faces encourage viewers to examine the works closely. The depiction of the figures against flat, dark backgrounds heightens their luminous presence, contained by dense and decorative folk frames selected by the artist from his own collection.
Since Blake’s time as a student at the Royal College of Art in the early 1950s, his paintings have been populated by images of people, both real and fictional. In these new works, Blake’s imagined characters are formed from an assortment of component parts: the artist has described how he takes ‘an eye from one found image and the mouth from another’, producing a face that seems somewhat familiar, but not quite recognisable. Blake has a long-standing connection to pop culture and cartoons, commenting ‘I’ve always loved Disney…my mother used to take me to the cinema when I was a baby and I can remember seeing all the early Disney films’. Tattoos are similarly a key motif in Blake’s figurative works, and numerous series are dedicated to his decorated characters. However, this is the first time that the artist has used Disney imagery in this way. In a world often thought to be oversaturated with imagery and content, Blake’s new set of miniature portraits offers a characteristically uplifting and idiosyncratic visual experience.
NEW WORK: Peter Blake Opening online 1st–18th December 2020