The Gazette hall of fame: Peter Blake

Peter Blake is a British pop artist, perhaps best known for co-creating the sleeve for the Beatles’ album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in 1967.

Blake was born in Dartford, Kent, in 1932. During the war, at the age of 7, he was evacuated to the countryside with his sister, Shirley. The siblings stayed with their grandmother in Worcester, before going to stay with a family near Haverhill, Essex.

His experience as an evacuee during the war, with no toys and few books, had a profound effect on what Blake later put into his art. As soon as he returned to Dartford, he became an avid collector of anything he could get his hands on, such as comics, badges and records. These were to feature in some of his most famous works. 

From 1946 to 1951, Blake attended Gravesend Technical College and School of Art, and following this, served in the Royal Air Force between 1951 and 1953. Once his national service was completed, he enrolled at the prestigious Royal College of Art in London, graduating with a first class diploma in 1956.

His top marks resulted in his being awarded the Leverhulme scholarship, which gave him the opportunity to travel through Europe from 1956 to 1957 and acquaint himself with the artistic trends of the time. On returning home, Blake went on to teach for several years at various London art schools, all the time working and exhibiting.

By 1961, Blake was a rising star of the British art scene, winning the John Moores painting prize. Just a year later, Blake held his first solo show at London’s Portal Gallery. His inspiration was drawn from his surroundings, and he produced collages incorporating iconic figures of the time. Alongside these, Blake worked with ‘found’ objects, such as photographs, cigarette packets and matchboxes.

From 1963, Blake was represented by the art dealer Robert Fraser, which brought him into contact with leading figures of popular culture, such as the Rolling Stones and the Beatles. Blake painted several album sleeves during this time. In 1967, he was asked to design the sleeve for Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, with his wife, Jann Haworth, the US-born artist (they married in 1963).

In 1969, Blake left London to live near Bath, where his first daughter, Daisy, was born in 1974. In the same year, he was elected as an associate member of the Royal Academy of Arts. In 1975, he became a founding member of the Brotherhood of Ruralists, a group of 7 painters based in the West Country. Although they varied in style, they took their inspiration from the spirit of the countryside. He changed his subject matter and technique accordingly, moving from acrylic paint to oil.

Following his divorce from Jann in 1979, Blake met the artist Chrissy Wilson, and they married in 1987. However, this was not before he was elected as a member of the Royal Academy of Arts in 1981, and awarded a CBE for services to art, in 1983 (Gazette issue 49375). His daughter, Rose, was born in 1987.

Blake created artwork for the Band Aid single, Do They Know It's Christmas? (1984); Paul Weller’s album ‘Stanley Road (1995); and more recently, Oasis’ album Stop the Clocks (2006). In 2002, Blake was awarded a knighthood for his services to art (Gazette issue 56595), in the same year as his friend, Mick Jagger.