Sir Peter Blake RA (b.1932, Dartford, UK) was Associate Artist at the National Gallery for over two-years, between late summer of 1994 and 1996. Blake’s work blurs the boundaries between high and low art. He is interested in mixing cultures, appropriating imagery from an enormous range of sources including pop culture, comic books, advertising imagery and art history. The results are eclectic, comic and sometimes bizarre. He has worked in a variety of disciplines, including painting, sculpture, printmaking, and collage.
Whilst Blake was a student at the Royal College of Art in the early 1950s, he started to incorporate elements of popular culture in his paintings. This has earned him the moniker ‘The Father of British Pop art.’ He has gone on to have a highly successful career, enjoying regular gallery and institutional exhibitions since the 1960s.
Blake described his associateship as 'a new start', explaining that he enjoyed working in a fresh studio devoid of clutter. At the outset, Blake said that he envisaged creating 'a small, neat show' of about ten paintings. However, once he had started work at the National Gallery, Blake felt a tremendous burst of creativity and 'ideas tumbled forth', the artist explained. By the end of his residency, Blake had begun at least fifty paintings. Reflecting on the two-years he spent as an Associate Artist, he wrote:
'One of the dreams I have had over the years as a painter, has been to return to that innocent state of being a student, of going into the art school and spending long days just painting, with none of the worries that appear later. Being at the National Gallery has been like that.'
'Now We are 64: Peter Blake at the National Gallery', was an exhibition that took place in the Sunley Room between 25 September 1996 and 5 January 1997 of the paintings and drawings Blake began during his residency. Blake’s exhibition included 'Exhibition of a Rhinoceros in Venice' (1994), the first painting he had started to work on during his residency. This painting transported the figures of eighteenth-century Venetian artist Pietro Longhi’s Exhibition of a Rhinoceros in Venice (about 1751) to 20th-century Venice Beach in California. Blake also exhibited his unfinished painting 'Tarzan and his Family at the Roxy Cinema, New York' (started in 1964), alongside two works by Cheetah the Chimp, the co-star of the Tarzan movies. Since Cheetah and Blake were both 64 years-old in 1997, the artist considered his exhibition a joint-celebration of their birthdays. 'Now We are 64' later toured to the Whitworth Gallery in Manchester between January and March 1997. Blake was elected a member of the Royal Academy in 1981. He received an honorary doctorate from the Royal College of Art in 1998 and was given a knighthood in 2002. A major retrospective of Blake’s work was held at Tate Liverpool in 2007, which toured to Museo de Bellas Artes in Bilbao, Spain in 2008.