A LIFE IN FULL: Portrait of the Artist as a Young Fan ; from Elvis to Madonna, Peter Blake Has Always Been Fascinated by Icons of Popular Culture and Made Them Central to His Work: `I Really Just Paint What I'm about, the Person I Am and the Things I Know'. NATALIE RUDD, in Her New Book on the Painter, Investigates the Parallels between the Fan and the Artist and PETER BLAKE Himself Explains His Love of Wrestling

Article excerpt

Blake was a fan long before he became an artist. His eventual entry into the art world did not diminish his fan status - it substantiated it. He was probably the first artist in post-war Britain to establish and maintain fandom as a legitimate and productive base for his practice. Tapping into his own enthusiasms or mirroring those of others, Blake has produced work in a variety of media that exudes a fan's devotion. Work made from this perspective can be found at all points in his career, from his earliest paintings of boys wearing badges, to the collage- constructions made in homage to stars of the 1950s and 1960s, to his most recent portraits of celebrities such as Robbie Williams, intended for a record cover design. At the heart of such work lies an acute interest in and understanding of fandom, regardless of whether or not the stars featured are Blake's personal heroes. His aim is to "get right in with the pin-ups and Elvis ... and inside every house that has plastic flowers and curtains", so as to investigate the ways in which being a fan manifests itself visually in choices of dress, for example. Or the presentation of images and objects within the home environment - on walls, in cabinets, on doors.

Fans were receiving scant or unfavourable consideration from commentators and theorists at the time when Blake first started to consider the subject. "Beatlemania", for example, was perceived by many as a debilitating illness, one of great danger to the mental health of young women. Recurring instances of celebrity stalking have similarly swayed society's view against fan culture over time. But Blake has never supported the popular stereotype of the fan as a passive receptor of popular culture, or as an obsessive, potentially dangerous individual who, out of uncontrollable desire for an unobtainable icon, rejects the rational self. Rather, he respects the fan as an active participant who negotiates the products of popular culture in playful, creative and sophisticated ways. For Blake, the figure of the fan - be it himself or another - is a potential source of inspiration.

In recent years many thinkers have come round to a more positive view of the fan, one more akin to Blake's own. His work has also anticipated a younger generation of innovative artists who have embraced the notion of the artist as a genuine fan, or as a kind of anthropologist assessing the idolatrous tendencies of pop culture. The paintings of the American artist Elizabeth Peyton (born 1965), for example, depict the heroes of today - including Jarvis Cocker, Leonardo DiCaprio and Liam Gallagher - with a heartfelt affection and dedication, and the British painter Dexter Dalwood (born 1960) depicts his interpretation of private celebrity spaces such as Kurt Cobain's greenhouse and Prince's Paisley Park studios. The objective of Cornelia Parker (born 1956), on the other hand, is to carefully preserve and display forgotten relics such as the fine residue left by the cutting of a Beatles record at the Abbey Road Studios.

Yet, although artistic and academic research into celebrity and fandom is now substantial and far-reaching, little has been written about the natural correspondence between fan behaviour and aesthetic awareness. Through an assessment of how fans use objects and ideas within the domestic environment to support their heroes, I hope to cast light on the natural correspondence between artist and fan, gallery and home, with a view to broadening our understanding of a major source of Blake's art. The points made here are drawn from a consideration of the available literature, and from an investigation into the work of fans carried out as part of the Pin-up: Glamour and Celebrity since the Sixties display that I co- curated for Tate Liverpool in 2001. In presenting celebrity portraiture from the Tate's collection alongside documentation of pin-up displays created by fans in their homes, the display examined the shared investment in celebrity figures made by artists and fans, whether in a gallery or domestic context. …