Intro: When meeting the Godfather of Pop Art; a man who has rocked out most of his life with some of the greatest bands from the last half of the 20th century, you expect someone a little more, well, terrifying than Peter Blake. In celebration of his 80th year, and a new exhibition at the Royal Albert Hall we sat down with the legend himself, and were surprised to meet a family man so lovely that we wanted to give him a big hug at the end. Blake was open, friendly and full of interesting anecdotes, and even told us to send his greetings to our dad at the end.
AW: This exhibition is a celebration of your 80 years, what is your favourite memory from the last 80 years?
PB: Getting together with my wife obviously. A kind of ecstasy was finishing national service. For two years you live a life you don’t really want to do, but you just do it. I went in ’51 and came out in ’53. And I walked from the RAF camp to the station and I sat in my civilian clothes, with the kit bag on the station. I remember it to this moment; the sun was shining and that bit of my life was over. I was about to go into the Royal College of Art and my life was about to start. That was an extraordinary feeling. It was like coming out of prison and going onto something wonderful. But then there was also the Everly Brothers, fantastic concerts with Ian Dury and getting drunk.
AW: You taught Ian Dury for a bit didn’t you?
PB: I did, yes. I taught three days a week; Monday St Martins, Tuesday at Harrow and Wednesday I taught painting. I had this mad principle that I wouldn’t leave the house before 9 o clock. It was not dignified. I had to get a train and three buses so I arrived late at about 11 o clock, with a wicked hangover and was told, “It’s an outdoor drawing class, your class is already out there – go and find them.”. I went into the pub on the way for hair of the dog and three of my students were sitting there. One of them was Ian. Instead of yelling at them I bought them a drink and we wandered up there. I think Ian was quite impressed with that. I was quite sharply dressed back then. I had an American-style four button jacket and button down shirt – he described it in one of his songs. I wasn’t that much older than him and we just became friends. I spent periods of time on the road with him, mostly gigs. I got wounded a few times.
AW: You have obviously created a very accessible form of fine art over the decades. Do you feel it is important for art to be accessible to everyone?
PB: It’s important to me. It’s a principle I’ve always worked by. I always hope there’s something somewhere that everyone could buy.
AW: Do you feel that it’s important that something is visually accessible too? To people that maybe haven’t studied art?
PB: Well originally that was what my concept of Pop Art was. When I described what I wanted to achieve, I said that I wanted to make an equivalent of a pop song. So the person who listened to Elvis would enjoy a picture of Elvis. That was absolutely my intention: to make something that was accessible to a certain area of the public.
AW: Do you ever plan on retiring or do you want to carry on to the end?
PB: Artists don’t retire, they are either brought to a halt where they can’t do it any more, or they die. If they do they pretend. I made a pretend retirement but that was a concept. Duchamp said he’d retire, instead he was making the most important piece he ever made.
AW: Do you still like to party?
Christie (Peter’s wife): As long as the paramedics are there!
PB: Last week it was a pretty hectic week. The week before we went to Oslo, then last Monday Glasgow, and I did a talk at the art school. Tuesday we went to Brighton. Then to the V&A with Wayne Hemmingway, who’s great to talk to. The one I did in Brighton I’ve done before and I had dinner then sat up on a high chair and answered questions. And then we arrived here, and I thought this is an odd venue. Then the lights came up and everyone sang Happy Birthday, and there was a cabaret – a bit like a German cabaret with circus acts.
AW: Are you very self-critical or do you feel very proud of everything you’ve achieved?
PB: I’m partly proud but the process, you have to be self-critical. In fact I’m very self critical, last week I did the cover of the Radio Times for the Queen and I only had two weeks to do it and I didn’t achieve what I wanted and I was a mess, I was morose for about a week. It looked too harsh, technically I had used the white a bit too heavily, it wasn’t what I had wanted to achieve.
AW: Which young artists do you most do you admire at the moment?
PB: I guess my daughter Rose is the one I’m most interested in because she’s my daughter, but I’m not that conscious of very young artists any more.
AW: Do you feel like she’s aware of your shadow over her?
PB: It’s a cross she has to bear and it’s sometimes an advantage, but she’s mostly proud and sometimes annoyed. She’s an illustrator so it’s completely her own world and success within that world. Not many people know she’s my daughter – she’s made her own way.
AW: Are you enjoying later life now and calming down a bit?
PB: There’s a few physical problems but it gets better all the time. Watching Rose grow up, my middle daughter Daisy she’s an actress. I’ve just booked to see Gatz with them, life is extraordinary. I’m here today, tomorrow is my show at the Mal Gallery.
AW: Brilliant. I think that’s about everything thank you!
PB: Nice to meet you.
Peter Blake at 80 is on until 8 July at Royal Albert Hall.
For more information please click here.
Words by Emily Steer of Art Wednesday