The Guardian hangs around with Richard Hamilton as he spouts off and prepares for a new show at the Serpentine, one of nearly a dozen being mounted this year. But not even Richard Hamilton knows why his work remains so little known, and yet so well known:
Despite his huge influence, Hamilton is not famous in the way that, say, David Hockney is famous. No one is going to ask Richard Hamilton to edit the Today programme. But you will recognise his most famous work even if you can’t quite put a name to its creator: his 1956 collage, Just What Is It that Makes Today’s Homes So Different, So Appealing? in which a naked woman sits on a G-Plan sofa wearing a lampshade; his paintings of Mick Jagger, and the art dealer Robert Fraser, in handcuffs following a drug raid (the Swingeing London series, completed between 1967 and 1972); his images of an IRA hunger striker (The Citizen series of 1981-3); his 2007 inkjet print, Shock and Awe, in which Tony Blair is done up as a cowboy, with double holster and boots. Or perhaps you own a copy of the Beatles’ White Album, the sleeve of which he designed.
Part of the difficulty is that he is so hard to categorise. A lot of his work could easily be described as pop art – the bright colours, the iconic images, the found objects – but he is also much more political than, say, Warhol, and he is a brilliant draughtsman, one who spent 50 years illustrating Joyce’s Ulysses (these enthralling prints were shown at the British Museum in 2002, and will probably never be bettered; he is to Joyce what Tenniel is to Alice in Wonderland).