A man of many talents, British artist Peter Blake lends his iconic pop art aesthetic to the enduringly hip Fred Perry label.
A pioneer of the pop art movement, Sir Peter Blake is both an artist and national institution. Making his art accessible to all, Blake (honoured with a knighthood in 2002) works with a range of mediums from painting to collage and graphic art. His most notable works include On the Balcony (1957), The First Real Target (1961) and his acclaimed Alphabet series (2008). Lest we forget, Blake was also responsible for one of the most iconic album covers of all time, The Beatles’ Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club.
Now the ‘Godfather of British Pop Art’, as he is so often referred, has collaborated with leading label Fred Perry to produce a number of exclusive (and extremely limited-edition) shirts. Displaying Blake’s well-recognised and bold screen-printed motifs (think hearts, rainbows, stars and flags), the three styles come in red, white and blue – a nod to both a 1960s ‘pop’ colour palette and Blake’s famous 1961 work Self-Portrait With Badges, where the artist depicts himself wearing a Fred Perry-style shirt.
i-D online caught a few minutes with the man himself at the official launch last night…
How did the collaboration with Fred Perry come about? They invited me. Someone at Fred Perry had a friend who worked at the CCA where I make prints.
In ‘Self Portrait with Badges’ (1961) it looks like you’re wearing a Fred Perry shirt. What was the significance there? It isn’t actually a Fred Perry shirt; it doesn’t have a motif on it. It must have been a rip off! Of course it could easily have connotations with the time, but the t-shirt from the portrait isn’t directly based on the designs for this collection.
What was behind the choice of iconography? They are filtered down from all the imagery I use, and all of them – the heart, the target, the rainbow and the star – for some reason work together as a unit. They also cover a lot of ground, the star covers showbiz and there’s a hint of the gay market with the rainbow.
Would you consider your art fashionable? I’ve always been prepared to go into areas other than painting and I’ve done things before with fashion and illustration. When I first applied at Gravesend School of Art, they recommended I do a commercial art course as I’d never make a living as a painter. So I trained as a graphic designer as well as a painter, I’m kind of an odd hybrid.
Looking at the designs of the T-shirts, do you think Pop art still holds an important place in the art world? The pop art movement was very short, and only really happened between 61 and 64, so anything after is referring back to that. Looking at these shirts and motifs, I think pop art has become almost a brand, and I’m kind of a brand myself with ‘pop art incorporated’. Yet by collaborating on something like this, I’m doing what I was trying to do in the first place, making art populist and into something you can understand.
What are you working on next? The big thing I’m working on is a painting of St. Martin that will go in St. Paul’s Cathedral. It will be in the chapel of the Knight Bachelors, the category of knight that I’m in. I’m also going to be involved with a scheme set up by a Ghanaian friend of mine that uses the country’s gold to make jewellery.
Text: Rose Poole