Sir Peter Blake @ Cambridge Contemporary Art

JESS MIDDLETON-PUGH takes Peter Blake’s pop art at face value, but can’t help thinking it’s just a bit tired.

art exhibition cambridge contemporary art cards david ponting jess middleton-pugh pop art scribbler sir peter blake the beatles

Cambridge Contemporary Art, 2nd – 26th June

From the man who brought you The Beatles’ Sgt Pepper album cover, this exhibition presents… more art that looks like album covers.

But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Having recently written an essay about pop art, I admit that I initially struggled to look at Peter Blake’s work through neutral eyes. Upon entering the gallery, I found myself wondering whether there is a deeper meaning to Blake’s work; whether he exploits the imagery of popular culture in order to cynically undermine it; or whether he just really likes bright colours.

And then I realised that it really doesn’t matter matter. We are all prone to trying to interpret pop art in bizarre ways, when it really makes a lot more sense to just look at art works at face value. And so I did – no pretentious interpretations; just an honest opinion about what the art looked like.

This collection is fun and cheerful, if not ultimately a little repetitive. A lot of the prints look like birthday cards (particularly prints like I Love You, which states exactly what the title suggests, in gaudy colours.) If you like birthday cards, that’s fine, but I would suggest you make your way over to Scribbler where there is a lot more variety and you can actually buy one for less than £3.

Having said that, you’d struggle to find a picture covered in diamond dust at Scribbler. Pentangle was once such piece. Its sparkly clashing purple, red, and gold made it look a few sequins and a slice of bacon short of the kind of art Lady Gaga might buy. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t mean this as a criticism. Blake explained that he “wanted to make an art that was the visual equivalent of pop music,” and he certainly succeeded. His pieces are undoubtedly suitable for widespread consumption. However, they are sometimes sickly sweet to the point of making your head hurt, and are a prime example of superficial escapism.

Pop art creates visually pleasing works, using images from every day life, borrowing from mass culture to add to ‘high’ culture. Blake’s work is true to this description, but I can’t help but feel it is so ‘pop’ that it has almost become a caricature of itself – a pretty veneer thinly veiling a complete lack of substance.

Blake’s art reminded me of an aging woman, past her prime, who insisted on dressing in the clothes of her youth; in Blake’s case for 50 years too long. I could have stepped into a time warp; commemorative images of celebrities long dead, pictures cut out of vintage magazines, I was almost shocked to find a lack of the now clichéd image of Marilyn Monroe.

Exam term makes people do anything to avoid revision; showering at strange times of the day, obsessive room cleaning, or in my case, visiting art exhibitions. But, I can’t help but think my energy could have been put to better use; I didn’t really gain anything from visiting this gallery. If you’ve already alphabetised your book shelves, re-filed your A level notes, and perfected the art of folding – pop into Cambridge Contemporary Art. But if you miss it, it’s really not the end of the world.

All in all: an inoffensive but ultimately unimaginative exhibition.

Photographs by David Ponting