The recent David Zwirner show, Cadaqués, confirmed this and recontextualised Hamilton's Sign (1975) from being simply part of the British artist's seminal 'Products' output, and actually a broader signifier in a compelling, layered 60 year career of painting, drawing, print making and coherent intelligent suggestion. What is certain is that Hamilton included a stack of three Sign in every major career retrospective after 1975, favouring this three-fold display of the multiple as a further homage to the Ricard source material: "The three-fold repetition of the logo recalls the large, enamelled metal advertising plaques - often fixed one above the other or in blocks - promoting the aniseed drink in the cafes of Southern France" (Etienne Lullin, Ed., Richard Hamilton: Prints and Multiples 1939-2002, Dusseldorf 2002, p. 140).
So Hamilton inserted an 'H' between the 'C' and the 'A' design of Paul Ricard, altering a beloved and iconic trademark to celebrate his own name… So far, so Pop! (The artist was surely enchanted by the red/yellow/blue pop palette… more than a little bit of Roy Lichtenstein here). But Hamilton's careful choice of a beautiful enamel on steel plate from a manufacturer in London signals a deeper intent. Marcel Duchamp had used enamel plates in his work, principally with the corrected ready-made Apolinère Enameled of 1917, derived from an enamel advertising sign for Sapolin enamel paint. Another enamelled plate ready-made followed from Duchamp in 1958, the Eau et gaz a tous les étages multiple. Duchamp and Hamilton forged their close friendship shortly after this, the young Londoner soon acting as something between a disciple, a collaborator and an anointed successor of the French master. At Duchamp's suggestion, Richard Hamilton first holidayed in Cadaqués, before purchasing and renovating an important home adjacent to the Esglesia de Santa Maria, 'the white pearl of the Catalan coast'. Here his role as Duchampian lightening conductor would take further, perverse flight.
Having transported his enamel Signs from the London manufacturer to Cadaqués, Hamilton chose to exhibit them at the height of that summer of 1975 for just one weekend only. Displayed singly and as bold groups across the walls of the beautiful Galeria Cadaqués - and mixed together with 'classic' real Ricard advertising plates - the artist also installed a VW deux chevaux van outside the gallery, emblazoned with Paul Ricard's ubiquitous branding. Enchanted villagers were provided with free pastis and tapas from the well-stocked VW camper, "whether they bothered to go inside the show or not!" (Richard Hamilton in conversation with Ashley Heath, 2010).
The delight and confusion of locals was increased as the artist also hung a group of three Sign prominently outside Meliton Bar on the village's main square. Famed as the favoured meeting place of Duchamp and Dali and where the now iconic missive "Remember Marcel Duchamp!" was written on a napkin, here Hamilton positioned himself in dialogue with both villagers and with himself: RICHARD. The photographic evidence of this street installation suggests Sign here became a worthy successor of Epiphany (1964). SLIP IT TO ME, indeed.
In Sign we in fact see Hamilton aligning a number of key themes: Duchamp, the ready-made, advertising, 'self-portrait', European modernism, design, democratic 'high' aesthetics, the everyday 'epiphany'… "Where Marcel was insistent on chance and would choose objects that had no obvious aesthetic value, I will always choose everyday objects that have some wonderful quality, that do have aesthetic qualities... or at least appear that way to me," Hamilton told this writer shortly before his death.
The Sign of 1975 perhaps also functions on the level of Hamiltonian (that is, Joyce/Duchamp/Broodthaers-ian) wordplay. Beyond the adding of an 'H' to a 'Ricard' advertising sign, we also see here a clear Sign of the Times, that is, a charming post-Pop reiteration of Dada's easy/witty cafe culture values. Perhaps only the 'Father of Pop' could provide such an elegant step forward/backwards in the mixed-up climate of the mid-Seventies. Pop! might be dead, but Roy Lichtenstein's prime-time primaries had long packed a distinctive street punch. Still looking for a Pop Art Wow!?… Hung ever since in museum shows alongside that other icon, Toaster (1967), we witness both Hamilton's idiosyncratic consistency and purposeful polarity ring down the ages.
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