Richard Hamilton: In the Mirror with Marcel Duchamp
Interview by Pascal Goblot
(excerpts from the booklet)
Richard Hamilton died on September 13, 2011. For more than half a century he made art
that shone a bright light onto our world and our representations, skillfully revealing their
narcissistic delusions and deceit. The famous collage he made in 1956, Just what is it that
makes today's homes so different, so appealing? convincingly establishes his credentials
as the father of British—if not all—Pop Art. The father, but not the pope: Hamilton was
always too busy trying new things and reorganizing the relations between image,
technology and idea to make a career out of a movement. In addition to his own
experiments, Hamilton was a lifelong devotee of Marcel Duchamp. Without trying to
impose an interpretation, or becoming hemmed in by the older artist, he worked tirelessly
to explore the implications and details of Duchamp's work.
It is fascinating to see how a person who some, myself included, consider to be one of the
most important artists of the last century, constructed his own body of work through a longrunning
relationship with another artist who was at once an elder, a model and a mentor,
and how his unfailing fidelity to Duchamp underpinned his own artistic freedom. I
interviewed and filmed Richard Hamilton several times when making La Légende du
Grand Verre, a film about Duchamp's The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even,
which Hamilton made a replica of for the Tate Gallery in 1966. The exchange that follows
is taken from these interviews.
How did you discover Marcel Duchamp's work?
It was just after the war, a friend of mine showed me a copy of the Green Box notes. I
found it fascinating, as anyone might. Of course I had no understanding of anything. I
couldn't read it because it was in French but it interested me as an object. After that, the
first painting which I had seen was the Bride painting, at the exhibition at the Tate Gallery
called Masterpieces of Modern Art from the Museum of Modern Art, New York I was
absolutely overwhelmed by it. Of all those masterpieces that's the one that opened my
eyes to something new.
And how did you meet him?
Years later, in 1956, for an evening devoted to Marcel Duchamp, I tried to make a
translation of some notes of the Green Box, with a friend who spoke French. I wrote to
Marcel Duchamp and asked him to look at it, and to let me know what he thought. A year
later, I had a letter which turned up with the handwriting that I recognized from the Green
Box. He wanted to introduce me to George Heard Hamilton, who is no relation of mine but
happens to have the same name, and worked on the translation of the whole of the notes
of the Green Box. So, we were brought together. What interested me about this project
was the fact that the notes can't be just printed in a normal way, like literary text, because
alterations, interventions, crossing outs, and all these marks and little diagrams that he
made in the notes were very difficult to treat in a normal typographic way. The problem
was to express the meaning of the notes, the thinking behind the work. It was necessary to
find a form which would give you some idea of the thoughts of the person making these
notes. After three years of correspondence with Duchamp, and having met him in Paris, I
was a kind of a disciple, from another generation. He seemed to appreciate the effort that I
was making to understand what he had done, and he thought I understood pretty well!
[laughs]. That's how we met and how we became friends.