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Pop goes the easel

Esme ward provides insights into one of the works in a forthcoming exhibition exploring the relationship between art and music.

The painting Got A Girl (1960-61) by artist Peter Blake (born 1932) juxtaposes photographs of "pop idols" with red, white and blue enamelled panels. The title of this work comes from a song by the Four Preps released in 1960, and the vinyl disc that gave the work its title is included in the very top left-hand corner.

The lyrics describe a boy's frustrations as he realises his girlfriend is more interested in pop idols than she is in him; whenever he wants to kiss her all she can think of are the pop stars whose pictures are featured in the work. They are, from left to right: Fabian, Frankie Avalon, Ricky Nelson, Bobby Rydell and Elvis Presley. Both painting and song suggest displaced love; the pop idols overshadowing the real-life boyfriend.

The images of pop idols have been taken from magazines, crudely printed on poor quality paper. They have faded and mellowed, like the memories of the pin-ups and heroes of our youth. Peter Blake is interested in ephemeral objects of this kind and his inclusion of collaged elements from popular culture was used to great effect in a number of works in the early 1960s. Other subjects of his collages or constructions included show business and film stars.

Within modern art, the technique of collage or construction of different elements was first used by the Cubists Braque and Picasso. Collage is crucial to Blake's art, opening up endless possibilities with its combinations of images from "high" and "low" culture, of the real and imaginary, past and present.

Peter Blake was an early practitioner of Pop Art. He had grown up during the Second World War and embraced the influx of Americana in the post-war period. His interest in American popular culture, its iconography and language, became central to his work.

His use of popular imagery clearly linked him to Pop Art, but perhaps to a far wider definition of "Pop" than this painting, with its American focus, would seem to suggest. The lower part of the piece reflects the artist's interest in another sort of pop culture, folk art, the popular culture of the past. The simple chevron pattern in red, blue and white is not an abstract canvas but, instead, battered enamel-painted board similar to the fairground decorations the artist had studied since his student days.

Pop Art can be described as "the style of consumerist society". The images of everyday objects presented by the mass media became part of the shared iconography of Pop Artists. Popular and art images (from Mickey Mouse to Mondrian) were widely appropriated as the hierarchy of subject matter broke down and an artist's frame of reference widened.

Some suggest that Pop Art was the result of a critical or perhaps ironic attitude to popular culture, as can be seen in the work of Richard Hamilton. Yet Blake aligned himself neither with nor against consumerist society, but instead borrowed its forms and took inspiration from them. His paintings do not take a critical approach to popular imagery but instead are an emotional, often nostalgic and very personal response to popular culture. It is significant then, that a few years ago, when the record was stolen from the painting, the artist was able to replace it with a second copy from his own collection.

Music and art share vocabularies; rhythm, colour, tone and composition are both musical and artistic terms. Musicians, their instruments, performances and sound haveproved a rich subject matter for artists throughout the centuries.

Got A Girl is just one of many art works by Peter Blake that focuses on popular music and the cult of personality, the artist being best known for his Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Banddesign for the cover of the Beatles' 1967 album. Like Blake, many contemporary artists are fascinated by the relationship between art and music. This relationship is to be explored in a forthcoming exhibition at The Whitworth Art Gallery, called "The Art of Noise". This exhibition has been developed jointly by the Whitworth and Manchester Camerata, the North-west's leading chamber orchestra, and brings art and music together under one roof.

Imagine we could turn up the volume to a painting. What would we hear? When you listen to a piece of music, does it conjure up a picture in your mind? How have artists been inspired by music over the years? These ideas and the relationship between these sibling arts are explored in the exhibition with work by artists as diverseas William Hogarth, Paul Klee, Bridget Riley and Paula Rego.

Teaching tips


This activity encourages pupils to explore the experience of music through art. Play two or three very different pieces of music and encourage children to respond or express, through drawing, what they hear.

Ask pupils to think about colour, line and different forms of mark-making. Discuss how we respond to different sounds, explore the words that best describe them and think about which marks correspond to these words and sounds. For example, graceful, gentle music might result in undulating, rhythmical, soft marks.

This activity can also be developed into movement and dance work. Having responded to a piece of music by making marks on paper, ask pupils to develop their mark-making into bodily movements and to create shapes or rhythms with their bodies based on their drawings. Alternatively, ask pupils to respond to an artwork through music. Discuss colours, mood, forms and subject matter. Think about which sounds or instruments would bring an artwork to life and record the soundtrack.


Much of Peter Blake's work is about portraiture, with his subjects often surrounded by their attributes, giving clues to their personality. He used collage to great effect, combining disparate elements within one work. These elements included prints, found objects, ephemera and photographs.

Ask students to use drawing and other collected visual information (newspaper and magazine cuttings, photographs) to create a visual image that expresses ideas about their own identity and interests. In addition to thinking about how to convey their different emotions and expressions through use of a wide range of different media, encourage students to:

* combine and manipulate materials * look at ways of cutting and overlaying images * explore how images can be made in a sequence * work on top of collage using paint techniques * experiment with different compositions.

Music students could look at how composers such as Messiaen and Debussy created expressive soundscapes. Explore the concept of musical collages, expressing emotions and desires through the medium of music.

"The Art of Noise - having fun with music and art" will open on July 6 and will run until September 2 at The Whitworth Art Gallery, The University of Manchester, Oxford Road, Manchester, M15 6ER. Tel: 0161 275 7450.

Web: Esme Ward is Education Officer at The Whitworth Art Gallery

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