‘Interior II’, Richard Hamilton, 1964

Richard Hamilton 1922-2011

T00912 Interior II 1964

Not inscribed.
Oil, metal relief and assemblage on board, 48 x 64 (122 x 162.5).
Purchased from the Robert Fraser Gallery (Grant-in-Aid) 1967.
Exh: Hanover Gallery, October–November 1964 (34, repr. in an earlier state but exh. complete); Robert Fraser Gallery, Studio Marconi, Milan, June 1966 (15); group exhibition, Robert Fraser Gallery, January-February 1967 (40).
Lit: Richard Morphet, ‘Richard Hamilton’s “Interior II”, 1964’, in Burlington Magazine, CX, 1968, p. 219,repr. p. 217, pl. 76.
Repr: Art International, X, No. 8, October 1966, p. 16 (in colour).

This is one of ten works by Richard Hamilton based on a publicity still, in which actress Patricia Knight is prominently seen, from the 1940s film ‘Shockproof’. The still had been used as part of a first year students’ exercise devised by Hamilton at the University Fine Art Department, Newcastle-upon-Tyne. The artist wrote (in the catalogue of his exhibition at the Hanover Gallery in 1964) that ‘the still had a fascination that I spent some time analysing. Everything in the photograph converged on a girl in a “new look” coat who stared out slightly to right of camera. A very wide angle lens must have been used because the perspective seemed distorted, but the disquiet of the scene was due to two other factors. It was a film set, not a real room, so wall surfaces were not explicitly conjoined; and the lighting came from several different sources. Since the scale of the room had not become unreasonably enlarged, as one might expect from the use of a wide angle lens, it could be assumed that false perspective had been introduced to counteract its effect yet the foreground remained emphatically close and the recession extreme. All this contributed more to the foreboding atmosphere than the casually observed body lying on the floor partially concealed by a desk.’

Three collage studies of equally complex interiors, two studies of the desk (one drawn on a printed perspective grid and one an oil study on photographic base), and an edition of six oil and silk-screen variations on the photograph of Patricia Knight, led to the painting ‘Interior’ (or ‘Interior I’), 1964. This work (collection Kurt and Erna Burgauer, Zurich) is of the same media and dimensions as ‘Interior II’.

Unable to include ‘Interior I’ in his 1964 exhibition because it was abroad, Hamilton undertook a second ‘Interior’ painting. He wrote (letter of 21 June 1968), ‘I would probably have made the second version anyway because I was slightly disturbed by the way the first painting had been pushed by its sources into a period atmosphere. Since most of the available interior collage material in magazines like “House and Garden” is Mayfair interior decorators stuff it became a bit overloaded in that direction.

‘I was very conscious of the fact that any interior is a set of anachronisms, a museum. The more “modern” treatment of Interior II tries to press home this point.’

Most of the ten works on the interior theme are (artist’s statement in 1964 catalogue) ‘about this image of an interior space – ominous, provocative, ambiguous; with the lingering residues of decorative style that any inhabited space collects. A confrontation with which the spectator is familiar yet not at ease.’ Hereferred also (21 June 1968) to his interest, in each work of this series, in ‘the manner in which a collection of quite different images attain a common identity by the way they contribute to a group. I tried to provide the same type of elements in each version though they are not identical. A curtain (so much in the foreground that it puts the spectator outside the interior) helps to make the spectator’s position illicit – a Peeping Tom: this is another reason why the camera must not be felt by the occupant. Foreground furniture. Pictures. Carpet. A view into another room. There is a compositional unity in that the figure is placed at the visual centre. The carpet (or desk) acts like an arrow in directing attention. Although there is no consistent vanishing point there is a persistent tendency for lines to converge on the figure. In the Shockproof still the desk partially hides the body of a man Patricia Knight has just killed in a struggle for a gun. The dramatic role of the dead man is transferred to the lurid colour treatment of the carpet.’

‘The Eames “la Fonda” chair was taken from the Hille catalogue of the Herman Miller collection. Its seat, shaped from ¼” aluminium, was upholstered with carved balsa wood painted and flocked before fixing. The legs are a straight photographic enlargement.

‘An electric wall socket was a late addition which I like to think of as a metaphysical solution to a compositional problem. Interior II seemed a little empty without the desk and I tried several objects that might occupy the central position, everything was too emphatic and contrived – I almost settled for an electric fire, but suddenly the socket became enough. It suggested that any appliance might be plugged in – psychologically it is big but without being too dominant visually. It was drawn from a socket at home; trompe l’oeil because I wanted it to seem real enough to imply the possibility of an appliance.

‘The view into another room, a feature common to the whole group, is most elaborate in Interior II. Some of the material is collage from a colour shot of Larry Rivers’s studio in Esquire. There are stacks of pictures against the wall (I added in a piece of blue paper to make an Yves Klein). Some furniture and a mirror (there is a piece of real mirror inlaid in Interior I) in this other room are painted in imitation of collage. The dribbled paint around the chair affirms the essential pigment nature of that illusion game. The black strip is a token for abstraction, a mark that cannot get absorbed into the perspective convention so it lies on the surface. It was the last addition to the painting in an attempt to satisfy a slightly desperate urge to disrupt the equanimity of the composition…’

The fragment of an interior at top right attracted Hamilton ‘by the dramatically low angle shot up into the ceiling. It was an extreme view of an interior and absurdly unrelated to the many perspective viewpoints in the painting’. The television set was ‘derived from a brochure. The TV theme originated from a triplet advertisement showing three varied wood treatments of the same set’. Two of these were used directly in the collaged studies. A curved silhouette at the right side of the picture refers back to ‘Interior study (a)’, in which Hamilton used part of a Life magazine photograph of Monet’s daughter seated in a room filled with her father’s paintings. The photograph was employed to provide walls of a convenient scale: ‘it wasn’t the subject of the photograph that attracted me… I cut around the contour of the seat to remove its occupant. This sofa, represented as a void, perpetuates itself in the paintings as an attachment to something that isn’t there’.

Appearing on the television screen is a frame from Abraham Zapruder’s colour film of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on 22 November 1963. It ‘serves a theatrical purpose… From the start the Shockproof still had appeared ominous – perhaps partly due to the remoteness of the girl from the body on the floor. Putting the John Kennedy assassination on the television screen, in such a position that the occupant of the room doesn’t see it, brought in an element of blatant drama as an aside, offstage, unnoticed’. President Kennedy appears also as the spaceman in T00705 Towards a Definitive Statement on the Coming Trends in Men’s Wear and Accessories: (a) Together let us explore the Stars’ 1962 by Richard Hamilton. The artist comments: ‘One must remember that although a public figure will assume a strong role in the narrative of a painting, and can affect subsequent action in it, the availability of material for collage purposes prejudices the subject matter in favour of public figures. At the time I used Kennedy his was the image most frequently appearing in the magazines I scoured for collage – his would be the most likely head to fit the bill even on a purely statistical basis’. (All quotations in last two paragraphs from letter of 21 June 1968.)

Published in The Tate Gallery Report 1967–1968, London 1968.

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