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  •  Overview

     'My main motive for painting is to make magic and to bring pleasure.' —Peter Blake

    Often referred to as the Godfather of British Pop Art, Peter Blake instigated distinct components of the movement before it had officially been established. Born in 1932 and growing up in Kent, Blake enjoyed the plentiful popular entertainments of the time. Initially studying graphic design for a year at Gravesend Technical College before attending the Royal College of Art between 1953 and 1956, Blake’s interest in both typography and painting became essential themes that he explored throughout his oeuvre. Combining his passion for popular culture – from Marilyn and Elvis, to funfairs, circus, wrestlers and page three print – with a love of medium, experimenting with collage, paint and found objects, Blake created works that were treasures in themselves. An exquisite example of this ingenious practice, Nudina, 1961-1964, fuses a multitude of media, all lovingly encased within a painted frame: a deftly crafted painted surface, translucent jewel-like layers, a wooden picture rail, and a found figurine. The intimate scale of the work makes the piece all the more tangible, relatable, and captivating, further attesting to the artist’s soulful artistic approach.

     

    Nudina Detail

     

    Fantasy Figures

     

    Quoting the pictorial vocabulary of celebrity culture and the notion of the adoring, gazing fan from the mid-1950s, Blake furthermore began to portray his troupe of nonconformists, whose personalities and eccentricities imbued the artist’s paintings with their unique character, wit and power. Following from a body of work in which the artist accumulated many invented characters, the Stripper series found a bevy of imagined protagonists from the fringes of society. Embodying stereotypes of the characters they represent – sexiness, flirtatiousness and a beguiling appeal – the Stripper works are celebrated by Blake for their imperfections, and continuously appeared in his oeuvre throughout the 1960s.

     

    Nudina, like many of the artist’s anonymous strippers, is a person we will never meet. Facing out of the picture frame, straight on, she is illuminated by the red stage lighting of an underground strip club, holding the diagonal form of a teasing feathered burlesque fan. As such, the figure is representative of the performative women in Blake’s Stripper series, exuding the defiant self-belief of forbidden objects of desire. On this note, Marco Livingstone points out, ‘there is too much tenderness in these pictures for them to be seen as merely lewd, too much strength in these women for them to be dismissed as passive victims and too much personality for them to be dismissed as empty vessels. What comes across, to me at least, is the fullness of their humanity.’i Indeed, Blake was intensely conscious of the antagonistic nature of his works, yet believed that he would also be able to shed light on the more tender side of his secretive haunts and personalities. This prodigious ability to reveal what lay beneath the surface in turn echoed his desire to project a counterpart to his own reserved persona.

     

    Like much of Blake’s inspiration and collage works, the visual content for the Stripper series stems from photographic sources, including those found in mass-circulation magazines. Nudina’s indistinct depiction is resonant of a photograph taken in poor light, the chosen contrasting colour palette of black and red namely being reminiscent of the lighting in strip clubs.

     

    Image: Tate, London.
    Sir Peter Blake, R.A., Self-Portrait with Badges, 1961, oil paint on board, Tate Collection, London. Gift by the Moores Family Charitable Foundation. © Peter Blake. All rights reserved, DACS 2020. Image: Tate, London.

    A new type of art

     

    First engaging with Pop in 1959, Blake’s pictures of the time incorporated collaged elements of photographs of celebrities – mostly musicians and film stars – glued onto hardboard panels, which were brightly painted in primary colours, and executed in household gloss in order to resemble found objects, fragments of walls or doors. A collector of memorabilia himself, he posited that these additions were like iconic representations of a time obsessed with consumerism and fan culture. Blake’s Self-Portrait with Badges, executed in 1961 and residing at the Tate, London, notably sees the artist’s jacket heavily adorned with fan pin badges, highlighting his desire for a tangible connection to contemporary culture. Reflecting the everyday, these elements furthermore evoke Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns’ Combine and Object paintings – the latter’s target and American flag paintings having been exhibited at Leo Castelli, New York, only a few years prior to the execution of the present work, in 1958.

     

    Three Flags, 1958
    Jasper Johns, Three Flags, 1958, encaustic on canvas, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. © Jasper Johns/VAGA at ARS, NY and DACS, London 2020. Image: Bridgeman Images.

    As Blake began to elaborate his Stripper and Wrestler paintings in the 1960s, he started to affix little toys to the edges of their frames. His inclusion of cheap, mass-produced toys and throwaway objects discreetly related to religious iconography in Old Master and Catholic shrines, where saints were distinguishable by their attributes. ‘I suppose it’s also based on church art, on votive art, on altars, and on the little silver things that are hung in some European churches – if, by a miracle,  your leg gets better you hang up a little silver leg! I would have seen that kind of folk art in Europe in the late 1950s.’ii The artist’s figurines were chosen with great care to augment the story of his imagined protagonists; within Nudina, the ornament atop the character notably mirrors the cropped torso format of the painting, deliberately chosen by Blake due to the association of ostrich feathers with picture hats and similar finery. In Nudina, Blake’s empowerment of found plastic give-aways demonstrates his ability to elevate popular culture to the realms of high art.

     

    Detail of present work.
    Detail of present work.

    Cheerful and uncompromising, Blake’s works reflect the real world, highlighting the artist’s approach to life – that of the keenest possible enjoyment. Appearing in public for the first time since it was first purchased at the initial iteration of Art Cologne in 1967, Nudina is an exceptional example of the artist’s blithesome oeuvre. 

     

    Peter Blake on Painting

     

     

    i Marco Livingstone, Peter Blake: One Man Show, Surrey, 2009, p. 92

    ii Peter Blake, quoted in Nathalie Rudd, Peter Blake, London, 2003, p. 89

    • Provenance

      Robert Fraser Gallery, London
      Galerie Hans Neuendorf, Hamburg
      Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1967

    • Exhibited

      London, Robert Fraser Gallery, Peter Blake, 20 October - 27 November 1965, no. 1, n.p.
      London, Tate Gallery, Peter Blake, 9 February - 20 March 1983, no. 66, p. 94 (illustrated)

    • Literature

      Marco Livingstone, Peter Blake: One Man Show, Surrey, 2009, p. 92
      Peter Blake: A Retrospective, exh. cat., Tate Liverpool, 2007, p. 66

Property of a Private European Collector

19

Nudina

signed, titled and dated '“NUDINA." 1961-64 P Blake.' on the reverse
oil and enamel on Masonite and wood, in artist's frame with attached ornament
33 x 17.7 cm (12 7/8 x 6 7/8 in.)
Executed in 1961-64.

Full Cataloguing

Estimate
£60,000 - 80,000 

Sold for £75,600

Contact Specialist

Kate Bryan
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+44 20 7318 4026
[email protected]

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 20 October 2020