Sunday, March 01, 2009

Pop goes the Car Boot Sale

I’d heard the rumour about Sir Peter Blake, grandfather of British pop art - and most famously designer of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover - frequenting the Chiswick car boot sale, but never seen him the few times I’d been there and only half believed the rumour anyway.

After all, this is the man who was as the forefront of British pop art in the 1960s; who has designed album covers for everyone from the Beatles and Brian Wilson to, er, Paul Weller and Oasis; whose iconic paintings and collages fetch hundreds of thousands of pounds. Why would he need to go to car boot sales? Aren’t they for poor people?

But today, after a tip-off from my parents, he was there and I saw him, small, round and mole-like all dressed in black, white haired with white pointy beard, but all eagle-eyed ferreting amongst junk at a stall (please excuse my mixed-up animal metaphors).

He had a small black bag which already contained an old framed print, and was in the process of buying a plastic crucifix and some old cigarette cards. I remembered an article I’d read about his studio, and accompanying photos of it which reminded me of a (good) car boot sale stall - Victoriana, old toys, prints, magazines, records, music memorabilia, postcards, curios.

His paintings and collages too relish in a mish-mash of high and low culture and displaced objects. A painting as early as 1959, On the Balcony, almost looks like a car boot stall selling magazines, paintings, photos and various bits and pieces.

In a moment that happens but once in a lifetime (I wish I‘d had a camera, at least a camera phone), someone actually clutching a vinyl copy of Sgt. Pepper's under his arm brushed past Peter Blake. No one else noticed. I wanted to grab the guy and tell him the man he just barged past designed the album he was holding. I didn’t. I also sort of wanted to say hi to the great man himself but he looked like he valued his anonymity (no one else seemed to recognise him). Besides, he looked a bit prickly, haggling as he was for the crucifix he was clutching. Maybe he is poor. He received only £200 for his Beatles cover and never received any royalties.

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