Rolling Stones images dominate magnificent new Richard Hamilton exhibition

Rolling Stones images dominate the magnificent new Richard Hamilton exhibition.

In the gallery.  On the posters.  In the publicity leaflets… .

Mick Jagger just can’t help being a star.  His image covers an entire wall of the new Richard Hamilton retrospective now running at London’s Tate Modern gallery.  The six pictures of Jagger, from the Swingeing London 67 series, are highlights of a magical show.

Rolling Stones images: Swingeing London by Richard Hamilton

Poster based on Swingeing London 67 (f) 1968-69 by Richard Hamilton. © The estate of Richard Hamilton. Owned by and exhibited at Tate, London.

Hanging the six Swingeing London 67 paintings – all slightly different, taken from a larger series – side-by-side along an entire wall demands that you inspect them closely.

The series is based on one of the best-known of all Rolling Stones images – a Daily Mail photograph of Mick Jagger and art dealer Robert Fraser, handcuffed in the rear of a van, being ferried between remand and the court where they were facing drugs charges.

Rolling Stones images - Tate Modern, 2014

Rolling Stones images in the street: Richard Hamilton exhibition poster

Tate Modern is wise to use Swingeing London 67 to promote the show: it’s not only one of the most familiar Rolling Stones images, it’s probably the best-known image from rock music.

Rolling Stones images - main poster for Richard Hamilton show

Rolling Stones images in the street 2: the main poster

Richard Hamilton – far more than Rolling Stones images

Richard Hamilton is, of course, about far, far more than a reworked of Rolling Stones images. His Mick Jagger wall is just one of the show’s many highlights: the exhibition’s 18 rooms are crammed full of them.

Trainsition paintings, Pin-Up, Hommage a Chrysler Corp, Protest Pictures, witty pastiches of brands such as Braun and Ricard, and scornful portraits of Labour leaders Tony Blair and Hugh Gaitskell stopped me in my tracks.

Disappointments? Well, the diminutive Just what is it… underwhelmed me, and I’m not persuaded of the merits of the Shit & Flowers series, regardless of Hamilton’s floral draughtsmanship.

The Richard Hamilton exhibition is the perfect size: extensive but easily do-able. My first, deliberate, circuit took an hour. Impressed, I retraced my steps – another half hour. After a pause for reflection, I worked through the 18 rooms for a third time. I’d struggle to spend a more deeply satisfying couple of hours.

Richard Hamilton is a great artist: Tate Modern’s exhibition, a high quality showcase of his life’s work, proves that beyond any doubt.

As you exit the last room of the show, glance to your right: you’ll be treated to several other masterpieces, mediaeval and modern:

Rolling Stones images: the view from the window of Tate Modern

Even better than looking at Rolling Stones images…

The Richard Hamilton exhibition runs until 26 May.

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