British pop art pioneer Hamilton dies aged 89: gallery

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British pop art pioneer Richard Hamilton, whose work ranged from images of consumer culture to parodies of political leaders, died on Tuesday at the age of 89, the gallery that represented him said.

His seminal 1956 collage "Just What Is It That Makes Today's Homes So Different, So Appealing?" earned Hamilton the nickname "Father of pop art".

Hamilton also won worldwide recognition for designing the cover of the Beatles' "White Album" and in recent years for his depiction of then British prime minister Tony Blair dressed as a cowboy.

The Gagosian Gallery said the art world had "lost one of its leading figures" whose "influence on subsequent generations of artists continues to be immeasurable".

Gallery owner Larry Gagosian added: "This is a very sad day for all of us and our thoughts are with Richard's family, particularly his wife Rita and his son Rod."

Hamilton is believed to have died after an illness, but the Gagosian Gallery did not give any more details about the cause or say where he died.

The artist was born in London in February 1922 and studied at the Royal Academy Schools and Slade School of Fine Art.

One of his best-known works was the plain white cover for the "White Album" of 1968.

It featured a white square with the name of the band and a grey number in the corner, a sharp contrast to the colourful cover of the preceding album, "Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band", designed by Peter Blake.

Hamilton's design is notable as the only Beatles' album cover not to depict the band's members.

In his later years, he became as famous for his political images as for his works parodying consumerism.

His 2007-2008 work "Shock and Awe", named after the massive aerial assault launched on Baghdad in 2003, featured Blair wearing a cowboy shirt, with guns and holsters.

Hamilton said he produced the image after he saw Blair looking smug after a conference with then US president George W. Bush.

Nicholas Serota, director of the Tate gallery in London, said Hamilton died as he would have wished, working right up to the end.

Hamilton "was one of the most influential and distinctive artists of the post war period", said Serota.

"Greatly admired by his peers, including Warhol and Beuys, Hamilton produced a series of exquisite paintings, drawings, prints and multiples dealing with themes of glamour, consumption, commodity and popular culture.

"However, this fascination with the consumer society was highly critical, a moral position that was also evident in his distrust of the political 'right', ranging from Mrs Thatcher to Tony Blair and Hugh Gaitskell."

© 2011 AFP

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