How many times have I walked past local galleries and museums only to promise myself that one day (soon!), I’ll actually drop in to soak up a bit of visual art and history. But obviously not now, because No. 1 priority is getting my food-shop home – and I’m not going to curry any favour with regular culture-vultures by proudly parading my packed shopping trolley round an exhibition centre – especially not if, as they home in to realise a long-harboured ambition of closely examining brush-stroke features intrinsic to their favourite renowned art-works, the arty intelligentsia find themselves tripping over a small set of well-worn wheels bearing everything from kitchen roll to fondant icing.
Speaking of groceries (not art), it was, ironically, the allure of a larger-than-life tin of Campbell’s Green Pea Soup, no less, which prompted me to leave the bags-for-life at home (for once) and take that long overdue side-step off Mare Street and into Hackney Museum.
Okay, so it’s not an actual tin in there, but rather Andy Warhol’s colour screen-print original from his famous series of 32 soup flavours. When Warhol first exhibited his soup-tin canvases in 1962, each one hung from the wall like a painting, while simultaneously resting on a shelf like real groceries in a supermarket. But the difference was, that these ones weren’t just there for the picking by casual but eager shoppers…
….oh no, because the very tin that (finally) drew me in towards the modern well-proportioned museum-space here at 1 Reading Lane, Hackney, actually helped to usher in pop art as a major art movement in 1960s United States. Let’s face it, at least one of that tin-series is indelibly etched somewhere within the recesses of our collective consciousness, along, no doubt, with a couple of Andy Warhol’s multi-coloured Marilyn Monroes.
Carefully does it – Andy’s famous Soup-Tin
If I’m honest I was possibly more lured (subliminally at least) by sheer unadulterated comfort-food association than I was ever motivated by any genuine desire to learn more about the then unprecedented blurring of the line between consumer art and fine art. After all, a tin of soup is still a tin of soup, is it not?
But I was nevertheless intrigued to find out what this fabled Green Pea Soup can print was doing right here in Hackney Museum.
Well, Andy’s tin has, along with a bunch of its British Museum room-mates (each of them a renowned print-art-work in its own right), taken up position opposite an array of local community artists’ works to spotlight the latter in a special exhibition that explores the influence American print movements have had on good old Hackney, from well back in the day right up to the present moment.
They say that every picture tells a story, but these 20th century style works on loan from British Museum can’t so much as whisper to reveal their mysteries to someone as uninitiated as me into the retro-art of printmaking, can they?
Fortunately for all of us here tonight, Catherine Daunt, British Museum’s Curator of Modern and Contemporary Graphic Art, is on hand to give some revealing background on the post-war printmaking renaissance in America.
Catherine sheds some good clear light on the intricate methods deployed in the creation of these works lining the walls around us. We begin to glean how pop art and related movements interact with gender, power and race.
Shedding Some Good Clear Light
So, no, it’s definitely not all about food association. But it’s certainly food for thought.
Pop art revolutionaries transgressed traditional boundaries between media, combining painting practice with photography and printmaking, merging hand- and ready-made or mass-produced elements in order to marry fine art traditions with TV ad, cartoon- and film-like pop culture, bringing together objects, images, and sometimes text to get their message across.
Tonight we get to see first-hand how Robert Rauschenberg’s lively lithograph ‘Pledge’ incorporates photographic transfers of magazine and newspaper images.
A new way of presenting things…
And, on (much) closer inspection, we glean that Chuck Close, an American photographer and painter who achieved worldwide fame producing glossy mirror-like (photorealism) paintings really did go on to make massive-scale and unbelievably life-like portraits with his own finger-prints, adjusting the amount of pigment and the pressure of his finger on the canvas as he went along – a slow and accumulative process if there ever was one. This is one meticulous and superb smudge, even if you have to get up close and personal to witness (and believe) it.
Is this really someone’s fingerprint?
On Closer Inspection – Yes
Meanwhile, how about some coffee to help with that much-needed focus? Or at least some paintbrushes in a Savarin coffee can on a shelf, again courtesy of masterly use of artist Jasper John’s own red fingerprints. (But did he ever get that vivid scarlet tint off his own skin?)
Paint-brushes in Red (Fingerprints) – 1978 Lithograph Savarin 3
Impressive, sure, but where EXACTLY does Hackney come into all this?
In the 1970s local artists took up this baton of innovative techniques, cyphering them off to feed into Hackney’s history of home-grown and socially-conscious printmaking in order to publicise locally held radical events.
Workshops at Chats Palace in Chatsworth Road, Homerton, and the Lenthall Road Studios in Stoke Newington used silkscreen and lithographic procedures to produce posters promoting political movements, protests, films, speeches and community events. Thus home-grown campaigns around housing, nurses and class-sizes all benefited from these by now tried-and-tested methods.
Bold Statements to Make
In fact feminist t-shirt-making collective Lenthall Road Workshop, which started out in 1975, even adopted eye-catching pop art like designs to promote equality and raise funds for Hackney Women’s Aid.
Made in Lenthall Road Workshop
Of course, these days, we are oh-so overwhelmingly digital, but recent years have nonetheless witnessed a growing interest in hand-printing posters. Even if current local artists like Thom Walker do make use of new technologies like digital photography and computer design software to augment traditional screen-printing skills, (after all, this is 2017), there is thankfully still a lot more to artistic collaboration than forming all those transient connections on Twitter and Facebook – just as long as a greater sense of community is to be had by bonding with real comrades in the same room while continuing to do some things the good old-fashioned way.
Working with Real People
As I leave Hackney Museum, I feel like I’ve had a lot to digest, and a fair amount to absorb, but, alas, no time to do a proper food-shop, and now that I’m no longer distracted by art I am really starting to feel those hunger pangs. So this is my own chance to be little creative. After all, home-cooking is an art-form as well. And there’s nothing better than good food made from scratch. How about a bit of culinary fusion? If it turns out well and is bold and colourful enough, I can go ahead and post my special meal on social media. (Yes, I can feel a few hashtags coming on.)
But can I really be bothered to mess on with food this evening?
Maybe I’ll just pick up a tin of soup on the way home.
So which of 32 glorious flavours will I choose?