Conferment on 12 March 2011 of the degree of Doctor of Music, honoris causa, upon
Peter Thomas Blake
Presentation address by Professor Derek Scott
Peter Blake has spent more than a half-century at the cutting edge of British art; a key figure in the emergence of the Pop Art movement in the early 1960s; a painter of international acclaim; and an illustrator of the highest order. His work, over the decades, has moved through many phases but his enthusiasm for the signs and symbols of popular culture, and particularly the sounds of popular music, has been a defining aspect of his career.
Born in 1932, Peter Blake attended the Royal College of Art. In 1960 he started teaching at St Martin's School of Art and then at Harrow School of Art and Walthamstow School of Art. Between 1964 and 1976, he taught at the Royal College of Art.
From the early 1960s, Peter Blake broke new ground in the art world. In 1962, the inaugural edition of the first Sunday colour supplement - The Sunday Times Colour Magazine - included a feature on the painter. Shortly afterwards, Ken Russell's television film, Pop Goes the Easel, placed him at the heart of the new movement.
The painter's subsequent career has seen him secure exhibitions at the most prestigious galleries around the world as he has continued to marry fine art techniques with the images and artefacts of popular culture - over the years, he has taken an interest in the cinema and folk styles, music hall and sport - to produce innovative work that crosses traditional divides.
But his interest in and love for popular music have been enduring features; his long and celebrated sequence of album artworks provides a fascinating visual account of that life-long passion.
In fact, we may propose that the coming together of Pop Art and popular music in the mid-1960s, as fine art drew a new energy from the popular cultural boom, was definitively expressed by Peter Blake's remarkable collaboration with the Beatles on their landmark album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.
The 1967 cover he created for that recording has become the most famous sleeve of its kind, an image justly dubbed 'the Mona Lisa of rock'n'roll'.
But his images have also decorated recorded work by a veritable who's who of rock and pop - from Eric Clapton to Brian Wilson, Paul Weller to Ian Dury, Oasis to Robbie Williams - and his designs for the Band Aid and Live Aid projects of the mid-1980s are particularly memorable.
Peter Blake was awarded a CBE in 1983, and knighted in 2002. Today, we are delighted to add a further honour to that impressive roll.
Vice-Chancellor, I am delighted to present to you for the degree of Doctor of Music, honoris causa, Peter Thomas Blake.