- Richard Hamilton
- signed and numbered 4/12 on a label affixed to the reverse
- cellulose on spun aluminium
- 111.8 by 111.8 by 5.7cm.; 44 by 44 by 2 1/4 in.
- Conceived in 1964 and executed in 1989, this work is number 4 from an edition of 12, plus 2 artist's proofs.
Anthony d'Offay Gallery, London
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner in 1999
Exhibition Catalogue, London, Anthony d’Offay Gallery, Richard Hamilton, 1991, p. 69, no. 40, illustration of another example; and illustration of another example in colour on the inside cover
Exhibition Catalogue, Winterthur, Kunstmuseum Winterthur, Richard Hamilton: Prints and Multiples 1939-2002, 2002, p. 261, no. M12, illustration of another example in colour
Exhibition Catalogue, New York, Dickinson, Hamilton, 2006, p. 59, illustration of another example in colour; and p. 67, no. 20, illustration of another example
Mischievously decorated with the ribald words ‘SLIP IT TO ME’, Epiphany was originally conceived during Hamilton’s first visit to the United States. The trip’s ostensible purpose was the result of Duchamp, an artist who had exerted considerable influence on Hamilton since the late 1940s, with Hamilton giving a series of lectures on Duchamp’s Large Glass at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and visiting the first ever Duchamp retrospective at the Pasadena Museum of Art. It was whilst in Los Angeles that Irving Blum, the young dealer who ran the Pop orientated Ferus Gallery, took Hamilton to a novelty joke shop in Pacific Ocean Park, where they discovered a button emblazoned with these now legendary words.
The unforeseen impact of this small metal badge, or button, led Hamilton to create “the most enigmatic of his post-American objects” on his return to the UK, in the form of wooden disc that exactly mimicked the original badge and magnified its size many times over (Benjamin H. D. Buchloh, ‘Among Americans: Richard Hamilton’ in: Exhibition Catalogue, London, Tate Modern, Richard Hamilton, 2014, p. 94). The present work is the result of Hamilton’s decision to replicate Epiphany in aluminum in 1989 – a time when this more enduring material was no longer prohibitively expensive.
This giant button, a typically American mass market object used to communicate popular slogans, was in Hamilton’s own words "a souvenir of America" standing for much of what “I had enjoyed in experiencing the States but also summed up that which I most admired in American art, its audacity and wit” (Richard Hamilton quoted in: Exhibition Catalogue, London, Hanover Gallery, Richard Hamilton: Paintings etc. '56-64, 1964, n.p.). Indeed, the importance of American Pop art, many of whose leading luminaries, including Andy Warhol and Claes Oldenburg, Hamilton had met during his trip stateside, is clearly manifested in Epiphany. Hamilton would later say that he had been "overrun" by Pop art at that time (Richard Hamilton, Collected Words, London 1982, p. 55). Epiphany can also be considered a thoughtful response to the pioneering word paintings of Ed Ruscha, who was also associated with the Ferus Gallery, although Hamilton goes further by eradicating the stretcher, frame and canvas.
Epiphany, however, is so much more than just an homage to Pop art, albeit an entirely individual and original one: the rage for Op art beginning to sweep through the international art world is cleverly captured by the shape and color contrasts, and Duchamp is cited not only with connection to his readymades but also in the optical brilliance and bold colouring of his 1936 Fluttering Hearts. Hamilton himself had been keen to make known the importance of his artistic hero, having himself photographed holding Epiphany next to a replica of Duchamp’s Bicycle Wheel for the cover of the 1964 exhibition catalogue including this work.
A final influence, this time literary, reveals itself in Hamilton’s choice of title, which relates to his deep-seated infatuation with the works of James Joyce, whose characters are often engrossed in acts of self-realisation. Hamilton later stated that for Joyce an epiphany was “the revelation of the whatness of a thing: the moment in which the soul of the commonest object seems to us radiant” (Richard Hamilton quoted in: Exhibition Catalogue, Ljubljana, Cankarjev Dom Galerija, Imaging James Joyce's Ulysses: Richard Hamilton Illustrations to James Joyces Ulysses 1948-1998, 2001-02, pp. 99-100). In the same text, he went on to describe his own experience of inspiration, affirming that “if a sudden epiphany hit Marcel Duchamp when he picked up a bicycle wheel and put it through a hole in the top of a kitchen stool in 1913, I experienced such a moment of understanding when I encountered a large button in a seedy gift shop in Pacific Ocean Park, Venice, California, with the words SLIP IT TO ME blatantly displayed across it” (Ibid.).
The true success of Epiphany, and what makes it such an extraordinary work, is not that it seamlessly brings together and incorporates such a diverse and potentially overwhelming array of influences, which it does with aplomb, but that it does so whilst appearing so deceptively simple. This hanging sculpture is at the very essence of Hamilton’s Pop sensibilities and is an outstanding example of his work which stood shoulder to shoulder with that of his American contemporaries.