Terry Grimley looks at the unique work of Jann Haworth, one of the original ‘pop artists’.
The American, formerly London-based, artist Jann Haworth used to be quite a familiar name connected with 1960s Pop Art.
Then married to the painter Peter Blake, she collaborated with him in creating one of the most iconic designs of the era – the cover for the Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, for which they were jointly awarded a Grammy.
Haworth came to London in the early 1960s to study at the Slade School of Fine Art. The daughter of Edward Haworth, an Oscar-winning production designer, she grew up in Hollywood and was often taken by her father on to film sets, becoming familiar with the world of film and film stars.
This was a strikingly different formative experience to that of her British Pop Art contemporaries, for whom America was a distant Technicolor antidote to grey 1950s Britain.
Since those heady days of the 1960s Haworth has rather fallen off the radar, and the show currently at Wolverhampton Art Gallery is her first in the UK since 1972. She now lives in Sundance, Utah, and while work from the 1970s through to the 1990s may exist, this selection concentrates on the 1960s and the 21st century.
In fact, this 40-year gap is bridged by several of the works from the 1960s which have been “restored” and in the case of Pom Pom Girl (1964/2004-5) re-created.
Actually there is not always a great deal that immediately distinguishes the early work from the latest. Haworth’s figures and objects are stitched together from a range of materials including canvas, kapok and vinyl, and the introduction to the exhibition makes much of the feminine character of her materials and techniques.
Her Cowboy from 1963-64 – a life-size figure in white, leaning against the wall with his hat pulled down over his eyes – is about as realistic and life-like as her figures get. When the sculptor Eduardo Paolozzi saw it he suggested she cast it in bronze, but she preferred to stick to “a female language to which the male students didn’t have access”.
Haworth has described the domestic media adopted by some female artists as having a “B-movie” relationship to the traditional media of fine art. But this female-specificness can perhaps be a bit over-stated.
Cowboy, for example, is close to the spookily realistic figures made by Duane Hanson, while Lindner Doll, a fetishistic female figure in corset and suspenders, refers to the similar work by the German-born American artist Richard Lindner. Wolverhampton’s must be one of the very few public collections in Britain to actually own a work by him.
Haworth’s soft sculptures might also be compared with those of Claes Oldenburg, who made a very successful career from representing as floppy things which are normally expected to be rigid, from ice lollies to drumkits and toilets.
Her father’s work in Hollywood must have been a direct influence on Haworth, as was the 60s taste for old-fashioned glamour, often characterised as kitsch. These threads (literally) come together in pieces like Mae West Dressing Table (1965) and the triple portrait relief of Mae West, Shirley Temple and W C Fields (1967).
The latter, which I had never actually seen before, was reproduced in a book on Pop Art published near the end of the 1960s. The life-sized figure Old Lady II is a kind of folksy Whistler’s mother, a grannie in a rocking chair sewing a quilt. Inspired by Haworth’s great-grandmother, this figure has the distinction of having been included in the Sergeant Pepper tableau, although even those who think they are familiar with the LP cover might struggle to place it.
Luckily you can refer to a copy in the exhibition, and you can just see that the figure is on the extreme right, largely obscured by the little girl with the jumper carrying the words “Welcome Rolling Stones”, who is actually sitting on the old lady’s lap. An elaborate domestic group with an old man, old woman, dog, flowers in a vase and china cabinet has been brought together for the first time since it was shown in the exhibition 4 Young Artists at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in 1963.
Art History of the 20th Century (2005-2008) is a set of 20 brightly-coloured doughnuts (or donuts) which bridge the gap between 60s Pop and the more recent vogue for art-historical in-jokes by gaudily referencing artists from Nolde and Duchamp to Mondrian and Robert Smithson.
It is good to see that a still life group of Donuts, Coffee Cups and Comics, dating from 1962, is now in Wolverhampton’s permanent Pop Art collection – the best in public hands outside London.
* POP: Jann Haworth is at Wolverhampton Art Gallery until April 10 (Mon-Sat 10am-6pm, admission free). For details of events linked to the exhibition, visit www.wolverhamptonart.org.uk