Richard Hamilton was briefly a student at Westminster Technical College in 1936 where he came under the tutelage of the artist Mark Gertler. He moved on to the Royal Academy Schools [1938-40] and it was during that period that his first prints were made. They were actually printed at the Central School of Arts and Crafts being drypoints on celluloid of figure studies.
During most of the Second World War period Hamilton was gaining experience of commercial art at the Design Unit followed by work for E.M.I. the record company. After the war Hamilton returned to the Royal Academy Schools [1945-46] but was asked to leave for not profiting by the instruction given in the painting school. However a period at the more progressive and forward looking Slade School of Fine Art [1948-51] proved to be much more profitable and allied to his commercial background during the war laid the basis for Hamilton becoming instrumental in introducing Pop Art into Britain.
Amongst other ideas Pop Art sought to blur the distinctions between high [fine] art and low [popular] art. Thus in his paintings and prints Hamilton drew upon images and ideas taken from advertising, the media and popular culture. Hamilton himself, in a letter written in 1957, provided a description of Pop Art saying it should be, Popular, Transient, Expendable, Low Cost, Mass Produced, Young, Witty, Sexy, Gimmicky, Glamorous and Big Business.
Hamilton made prints throughout his career and by 1991 had produced more than one hundred and seventy prints in various media, for example screenprints, lithographs, collotypes, dye transfers, etchings and aquatints. He also combined these traditional methods of printmaking with quite complex photographic and computer aided techniques such as the electronic paintbox. With regard to the use of new technology in printmaking Hamilton has written, Paint can supplement photography and vice versa. The same can be said of the electronic paintbox; it doesn’t replace the old [printmaking] media but it can encourage new ways of thinking and working [see Richard Hamilton Prints 1984-91, p.12].
The popularity of Hamilton’s prints is testified by the fact that worldwide, between 1970-90 he held more than fifty one-man exhibitions of his prints. To quote Hamilton once more, Printmaking is a fascinating activity. Part of its attraction is that it can be done at all. In this cloning of an authentic, authoritative, individual yet repeatable mark there is a kind of sorcery. It is genetic mimicry that parallels organic creativity [see Richard Hamilton Prints 1939-83, p.8].
Hamilton was made a Companion of Honour (2000) and he held two important retrospective exhibitions at the Tate, 1970 and 1992, during his lifetime. A major retrospective of his work is planned to tour America and Europe from 2013.