One of the founders of Pop art in Britain, Hamilton took his theme for this work directly from popular culture, using pictures from Playboy and other men’s magazines as his sources. While the work references these ubiquitous photographs of sex symbols, it is also a modern treatment of a conventional subject of painting—the odalisque, or reclining nude. Hamilton approaches this tradition through a variety of pictorial modes: the hair is a stylized cartoon, the breasts appear both in drawing and in three-dimensional relief, and the bra is a photograph applied as a collage. "Mixing idioms," Hamilton has said, "is virtually a doctrine in Pin-up."
Gallery label from 2011.
"Popular (designed for a mass audience), transient (short–term solution), expendable (easily forgotten), low cost, mass–produced, young (aimed at youth), witty, sexy, gimmicky, glamorous, big business." So Hamilton once described modern consumer culture—the culture that he and the other Pop artists (whether British, like Hamilton, or American) felt art had to confront. No surprise, then, that the sources of Pin-up include what Hamilton calls "girlie pictures," both "the sophisticated and often exquisite photographs in Playboy" and the more "vulgar" images found in that magazine's "pulp equivalents." Less obvious, perhaps, are the references to art history—the passages, for example, that Hamilton asserts "bear the marks of a close look at Renoir."
The nude, or the more provocative odalisque, is of course an enduring theme in art, and Pin-up advances an argument over what an appropriate contemporary treatment of a classic art-historical theme might be. Such a treatment, Hamilton believes, would demand a "diversifying" of the languages of art, so that he approaches the odalisque tradition through a variety of pictorial modes: the hair, for example, is a stylized cartoon, the breasts appear both in drawing and in three-dimensional relief, and the bra is a photograph applied as collage. "Mixing idioms," Hamilton has said, "is virtually a doctrine in Pin-up"—an image both tawdry and extraordinarily sophisticated.
Publication excerpt from The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, revised 2004, originally published 1999, p. 239.