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Peter Blake: A life in pictures

Inside the artist's studio - Blake’s biggest and most ambitious work of all.

I’m in the artist Peter Blake’s studio in west London. It’s in a two-storey industrial building on a quiet street next to a tube station and it’s crammed with the fruits of 60 years of collecting – cabinets of curiosities, toys, folk art, Elvis memorabilia, found objects, records and a life-size effigy of the African American boxer Sonny Liston that appeared on the cover of the Beatles’ Sgt Pepper LP, which Blake designed.

Blake, who has just turned 80 and is preparing for an exhibition of his work at the Waddington Custot Galleries in London, shows me a large canvas propped against a wall at the far end of the studio. It’s called Once Upon a Time and he’s been working on it, on and off, since 1964.

“I don’t think I’ll ever get it finished,” he says evenly in an accent from which the traces of Dartford and Gravesend, where he was born and grew up, have never been entirely expunged. “It’s one of those pictures that’ll be in the studio when I die.”

The fate of the studio and everything it contains has been on his mind a good deal recently. “I have an eye on when I die,” he says. “I’ve talked to Sandy Nairne [the director of the National Portrait Gallery] about a portrait show. That could end up being posthumous.”

In a sense, the studio, or rather the collection it contains, is Blake’s biggest and most ambitious work of all. Exploring it is like browsing through the contents of a particularly well-stocked mind. “It’s a very private collection,” he tells me. “It’s autobiographical.”

Junkyard jazz

I ask him where he thinks the impulse to collect or accumulate came from. “I was seven when the Second World War started. I was evacuated and was away for most of the war, so I kind of missed that bit of childhood between seven and 12. Then, after the war, I went to Gravesend School of Art. There was a junkyard nearby and I bought three objects: a papier-mâché train, an ‘outsider art’ painting of the Queen Mary, and a complete, leather-bound edition of Shakespeare. The passion to collect started then.”

I go upstairs, where the collection has been arranged fastidiously in a series of themed rooms. One of these contains some of Blake’s early drawings, including one of the Royal Festival Hall done in 1954, when he was at the Royal College of Art in London. He recalls the optimism of the postwar period fondly.

“Frank Auerbach was in the year above me. In the year after me were Richard Smith, Robyn Denny, Bill Green – the British abstract expressionists. It was an incredibly exciting time.”

He mentions Auerbach more than once. “I admire him enormously. He’s totally serious.” I’m being invited, genially enough, to draw a contrast with Blake. “When I turned 65,” he reassures me, “I retired from animosity, jealousy, ambition – all the unpleasant elements of the art world.”

“Peter Blake: Rock, Paper, Scissors” is at the Waddington Custot Galleries, London W1, from 21 November

Jonathan Derbyshire is Managing Editor of Prospect. He was formerly Culture Editor of the New Statesman.

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SRSLY #13: Take Two

On the pop culture podcast this week, we discuss Michael Fassbender’s Macbeth, the recent BBC adaptations of Lady Chatterley’s Lover and Cider with Rosie, and reminisce about teen movie Shakespeare retelling She’s the Man.

This is SRSLY, the pop culture podcast from the New Statesman. Here, you can find links to all the things we talk about in the show as well as a bit more detail about who we are and where else you can find us online.

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SRSLY is hosted by Caroline Crampton and Anna Leszkiewicz, the NS’s web editor and editorial assistant. We’re on Twitter as @c_crampton and @annaleszkie, where between us we post a heady mixture of Serious Journalism, excellent gifs and regularly ask questions J K Rowling needs to answer.

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The Links

On Macbeth

Ryan Gilbey’s review of Macbeth.

The trailer for the film.

The details about the 2005 Macbeth from the BBC’s Shakespeare Retold series.


On Lady Chatterley’s Lover and Cider with Rosie

Rachel Cooke’s review of Lady Chatterley’s Lover.

Sarah Hughes on Cider with Rosie, and the BBC’s attempt to create “heritage television for the Downton Abbey age”.


On She’s the Man (and other teen movie Shakespeare retellings)

The trailer for She’s the Man.

The 27 best moments from the film.

Bim Adewunmi’s great piece remembering 10 Things I Hate About You.


Next week:

Anna is reading Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner.


Your questions:

We loved talking about your recommendations and feedback this week. If you have thoughts you want to share on anything we've discussed, or questions you want to ask us, please email us on srslypod[at], or @ us on Twitter @srslypod, or get in touch via tumblr here. We also have Facebook now.



The music featured this week, in order of appearance, is:


Our theme music is “Guatemala - Panama March” (by Heftone Banjo Orchestra), licensed under Creative Commons. 



See you next week!

PS If you missed #12, check it out here.

Caroline Crampton is web editor of the New Statesman.

Anna Leszkiewicz is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.