Books

Who Breaks a Butterfly on the Wheel? 'Richard Hamilton: Swingeing London 67(f)'

from Richard Hamilton's Swingeing London series (1972)

Freedom contrasts with detention. Those who celebrate celebrity as part of the sex and drugs culture must be captured. As the decade intensifies, the dream of liberation meets its waking moment.


Richard Hamilton: Swingeing London 67(f)

Publisher: MIT Press
Length: 130 pages
Author: Andrew Wilson
Price: $16.00
Format: Paperback
Release date: 2012-01
Amazon

When you listen to "We Love You" by The Rolling Stones, it opens with the sound of a jail door slamming shut. When you look at the cover of Sgt. Pepper, the Beatles -- guided by art director Richard Hamilton -- included, at the suggestion of his art dealer, Robert Fraser, a sweater with "welcome" for the "good guys" the beleaguered Stones, knitted across the chest of a Shirley Temple doll.

In that jail sat Fraser, who would be sentenced to six months in the summer of 1967 for cannabis possession. Keith Richards faced the same term; neither he nor Mick Jagger, also charged with Fraser, would serve time as they appealed. Meanwhile, Jagger's looming three-month sentence (reduced to a "conditional discharge") earned more attention, sympathy, and opprobrium.

William Rees-Mogg's famous editorial on Jagger in the London Times ran with the leader "Who Breaks a Butterfly on the Wheel?" Fraser merited, Judge Black reasoned, a stiffer penalty as the Eton-educated, King's African Rifles veteran came from a good family, and the court sought to make him an example of "swingeing" London. The pun, obscure to non-British eyes and ears, depends on "swinge": to beat or scourge. The media martyrdom of Fraser, and by extension the flamboyant Jagger, compelled their "friend and collaborator" Hamilton to make the pair's gesture -- hands flung before faces as the camera intrudes on their mobile incarceration, uneasy speed shuddering to a flashbulb's halt -- into Pop Art.

On 27 June, Fraser and Jagger had both been found guilty in court. After a night in Lewes Prison, the pair, handcuffed together (Jagger also being shackled to a policeman), were photographed by John Twine for the Daily Mail. This snapshot became the basis for a dozen images manufactured by Hamilton over the next five years.

Andrew Wilson, a curator at the Tate Museum, places Hamilton's series in the context of "history paintings" created out of photography and collage. As a noun and verb, collage centers Hamilton's work. The titular painting's "source is a reproduction of a photograph from a newspaper, and the painting describes a passage from photographic emulsion to screen-printed half-tone, and then to authorial marks using paint." Wilson locates in the result "a collage made up of the associated shifting codes, intentions, meanings, and readings-in of different materials, and it demonstrates the ways in which these materials can be manipulated and presented."

In the '50s, Hamilton pioneered Pop Art: the "expression of popular culture in fine art terms". His definition, for Wilson, expands into political critique and ethical assertion. The outrage by those in the conservative sector at drug use compelled the court to crack down and repress the stimulants that fueled sexual license and immoral indulgence. The outrage by those in the counterculture contingent sparked the media and celebrities to speak out and acclaim these same stimulants, in the Summer of Love.

The police raid at Redlands, the Sussex country estate of Richards, involved 20 officers in an early morning bust that revealed "Miss X", Marianne Faithfull, clad in only a fur coat. Lurid tabloid headlines followed. News of the World campaigned to take the Stones down, and after the home invasion in February 1967, it appeared their publicity might have worked--only to backfire as sympathy spread for Mick and Keith.

Richard Hamilton, The Citizen (1982-3)

These tabloids, cut and pasted, entered Hamilton's collages. Wilson documents Hamilton's career before and after the Fraser-Jagger images, and his work for The Beatles (aka The White Album) represents well his insight into the fragmentation of that band rooted in the recording of that double LP, and how the remote, austere cover and title played off against the accessible poster inside, framing four separate individuals rather than the Lonely Hearts Club Band (and wax figures) of the previous year.

This contrast of distance and familiarity continues throughout Hamilton's painting. While the Stones did not fall apart under their own pressures, they courted excess and danced with their own devils. As a sympathizer, Hamilton supports their stance, and Wilson sustains it as an art historian of the period.

While most of the book attends to the context of the painting series itself, peering into the larger display reveals telling details. Wilson makes asides that deserve study; he compares Swingeing London 67(f) to historical paintings of tormented Renaissance figures and religious works of persecution. Conflating martyrdom with a drug bust may seem, at a critical distance to conjure up its own overheated rhetoric, even as Wilson places the works within an "ethical purpose"--but for this curator, the serious nature of Hamilton's ideological mission overrides the satire or mockery in the Stones, the counterculture, or for that matter, any assault by those seeking liberation against the state.

Wilson presents a scene of entrapment as he reads Hamilton's photo-painting collages. Emulsion breaks down and the images melt into instability even as they are frozen on the canvas. Fraser and Jagger in the police van suggest the speed beloved by rock music, by Pop Art, by the '60s sounds and looks and attitude. The courthouse nears. The van slows, and the policeman beside the pair overshadows them. Behind the van, one window shows a tree and a glimpse of nature. The other, a wall. Freedom contrasts with detention. Those who celebrate celebrity as part of the sex and drugs culture must be captured. As the decade intensifies, the dream of liberation meets its waking moment.

Later works explore similar clashes. Wilson includes and comments on two political paintings of particular note. In 1983, The citizen depicts Hugh Rooney, an I.R.A. prisoner at Long Kesh (aka The Maze) in Northern Ireland, during the "no-wash blanket" protests demanding that the British grant Irish republican inmates political status. The feces smeared by such prisoners on their cell walls, as they refused to wear uniforms for criminals or to leave their cells due to beatings by guards, work themselves into grimy, textured swirls, recalling patterns in the medieval Book of Kells or the ancient Newgrange spirals etched into neolithic stone.

Treatment room, in the next Orwellian year, shows a television with intransigent Margaret Thatcher's face beamed on a television, perched and glowering over an empty hospital bed in a mixed-media installation modeled on a radiography room. An orange blanket, half-folded, half-discarded, drapes one corner of a cheerless cot. Wilson does not mention this, but I envision a veiled reference to the prison protests by the blanketmen, and the deaths of hunger strikers a few years before, echoed in this desolate display.

Similarly, although Wilson ends his short study with a quick look at the Joycean epiphanies (as the Cubist depiction of the "Oxen in the Sun" chapter shows deftly in the artist's etching-engraving In Horne's house) within Hamilton's works, he does not address the understated, suggestive title of the more politicized Northern Irish-themed painting. If, as Wilson asserts, this artist seeks to capture how "the ephemeral has become eternal" then the ambiguity of naming a painting about a rebellious, perhaps quixotic, struggle against Thatcher's state and the British crown 15 years after the drug case of Fraser and Jagger appears evident.

Richard Hamilton, Treatment room (1984)

Wilson looks back at the angry anti-nuclear protests which roused Hamilton to work earlier in the '60s, and his artistic incorporation of the "later consciousness of a depressed society" after the end of the hippie dream. But the Tate's interpreter blurs the bonds between Hamilton's work preceding and following the images that cohere in Fraser and Jagger as the foundation for his analysis of this Pop Art provocateur.

An I.R.A detainee who stands up defiantly in a filthy cell invites a defiant reaction from a British audience. In Ulysses, James Joyce distrusted Irish nationalism and its republican extremists; his portrait of a rabid Irish-Ireland predecessor to the bearded rebels and shackled convicts who filled Her Majesty's prisons earlier and later last century in that modernist epic did not give the parochial rabble-rouser any name but "The Citizen". Placed alongside the titular sequence from the Swinging Sixties, the aftermath of revolution not confined to the mind or body but against the state appears to demand more connections drawn, within Hamilton's works over his career, beyond those centered in 1967.

Hamilton took on Kent State's shootings a few years later; one is left wondering about the man behind the works depicted to, alluded to, or noted in passing. This book attempts to cover Hamilton's career, yet its editorial adherence to analyzing one work draws an uneven perspective upon its 111 pages.

While you learn nearly nothing of the artist as a young man, and you are left wondering about his roots and earliest influences or later life, the concentration of focus on an iconic work is intended as part of a series designed to single out an artist's signature creation as shaping history. End notes and a sample of Hamilton's oeuvre may entice readers to learn more about this culture clash embodied in his series on another version of jailhouse rock. This title should remind viewers of popular culture how much contemporary musicians and artists owe to the marriage of these two genres in documentation made representation by such keen-eyed participant-observers as Richard Hamilton.

6

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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