John McHale Interview (cont.)
21. I'd like to ask you about some of the other elements in Just what is it that makes today's homes so different, so appealing? Probably the most written about symbol is the Tootsie Pop.
According to Hamilton, he was allegedly using a list to cull and cut out images selected for the paste-up and production of the collage. However, Hamilton's alleged list only accounts for about 18 of the some 36 visual items in the collage picture, which means it is therefore impossible to construct the Pop Art collage from Hamilton's alleged list. Furthermore, Hamilton's alleged list DOES NOT INCLUDE THE TOOTSIE POP. Hamilton alleges that he fortuitously had the Tootsie Pop image already available to include in the collage. My father distinctly recounted to me that he provided Hamilton with the image and it was intentionally meant to be included in the collage as a direct reference to the term "Pop Art" as coined by my father circa 1954. Is it likely that Hamilton, sequestered in the relative isolation of mid last century London knew the iconic American significance of the Tootsie Pop and the fact that it is linked to the lollipop invented in New Haven where my father studied at Yale? An extremely small minority of people in Britain would have known about American Tootsie Pops in Britain in 1956.
The lollipop was invented in New Haven by a Mr. Bradley and it was originally named after a race horse. Does Hamilton have any connections to a Mr. Bradley? Was he at Yale? Or do any of Hamilton's pre-1956 works include direct references to race horses? In contretemps, I submit that McHale's Transistor collage (1954) does have media references to race horses, as does another horsepower image in his "Just what is it..." collage design. Also, McHale was close friends with the Bradley namesakes - at Yale, the brothers Tom, Ned and Terry Bradley. Tom Bradley from Yale visited McHale and the Cordells on their eighty foot yacht in Salcombe shortly after the This is Tomorrow exhibition.
22. Is there any significance to the fact that the bodybuilder is holding the oversized Tootsie Pop?
McHale was an intellectual member of the Yale Club. In his collage McHale takes an assured smart swing with his Yale Pop Art club and bats the Tootsie Pop image right back to Paolozzi's Rich Man's Play Thing and another muscular swing of the lollipop right into Henderson's east end "Star" confectionary stand to conclude another home run and conceptual smash hit.
23. Do you mean that there is a connection to American baseball?
McHale trained during the second World War both in the British Commandos and the Royal Marines and fought the enemy while medically assisting the wounded service men throughout the Mediterranean theatre of war. The fellows who fought in the wartime Med were given the ill-deserved title of "D-Day Dodgers." One may recall that McHale the artist was Scots and also included the readymade of Marilyn Monroe at the This is Tomorrow exhibition. Marilyn had an honorary Scots name and she was married to the baseball striker Joe Di Maggio who played baseball for the New York Yankees which had previously been called the Highlanders. When McHale was attending Yale the Yankees lost to the Dodgers in 1955. In subsequent years the team rectified the score.
Furthermore, McHale had another very good friend at Yale who was an exceptional draftsman and artist - Arnold "Buster" Bittleman. Arnold Bittleman's name is still engraved in a monument at Yale. Prior to attending Yale, Arnold Bittleman tried out for the major leagues and earned the name "Buster" for his phenomenally fast pitching. Buster taught McHale the rudiments of American baseball pitching in the back of McHale's Yale digs in Rock Park in New Haven. For his artistic talent and in recognition of McHale's desperate need of baseball coaching, Buster bequeathed his leather baseball pitching glove to McHale when he visited and lived with him for several months at his London studio at 52 Cleveland Square. For the whole time my father occupied his London studio atelier he had Buster Bittleman's glove prominently displayed like an abstract Constructivist head right next to McHale's three dimensional collage self-portrait head. They resided there for years, pitching glove and head, like McHale's Pentes and Lares guarding his studio.
Bittleman was one of the very few artist friends of my father's from Yale who had complete free access to my father's studio at 52 Cleveland Square and used to work in it when he was in London staying with my father. He lived for several months in the downstairs studio at 52 and took incredible photos of us as children and American film crews on location and the nightlife of London. Later the Cordells and McHales all met up with Arnold in his Gogomobile car on the Adriatic Coast and he stayed with us at the Hotel Jadran near Split and made a Surrealist movie with us and did all the costuming and body painting for the film.
24. Earlier you mentioned that the comic book was linked to the Marlon Brando "readymade" at the This is Tomorrow exhibition. It's true that Brando represented a type of juvenile delinquent in The Wild One but your father could have used a different example of juvenile delinquency. Why Brando specifically?
Part of the joke about Brando at This is Tomorrow was the fact that Paolozzi was Italian ice cream Scots and he considered himself a "Brutalist" artist. Brando was considered part Italian, a damn fine artist like Paolozzi, and he rode into small town America on a British Triumph motor bike like a wild "ton up boy" where all the Brutalist machinery and design was evident, and thus conformed to Rayner Banham's machine aesthetic principles. McHale's collage poster design for This is Tomorrow abounds in humorous jokes about his friend Paolozzi - there are a mere two conceptual references to Hamilton. There are quite a few references in the TIT collage poster to Rayner Banham, including BanHAM and FORD automobiles and the machine aesthetic. Banham is on record as noting that the ICA group were having a great deal of difficulty reading the symbolism of American automobile heraldry until McHale and Alloway enlightened them with their analysis.
25. Is there any significance to the fact that the can of ham is an American brand rather than an English one?
The can of ham is a specific can of ham with a specifically designed industrial metal sculpted shape by a known American designer. It is an Armour product, as in Armour Institute which Gropius was nominal head of and McHale lectured on at the ICA. Armour built his stockyards in Chicago and relied on the American system of production and the efficient delivery of a vast rail transportation system. The rail tracks and Armour "reefer" cars used to rumble quite close by McHale's Yale digs.
The tin of ham also contains Bauhaus connotations, which are related, in part, to some of Banham's theoretical ideas and concepts, and also to a lecture that McHale gave at the ICA prior the TIT. The tin of ham is also a visual pun reminding the collage viewer that McHale and Alloway mounted the ICA retrospective exhibit on Francis Bacon. In addition, the tin of ham is intended as a humorous dig at Paolozzi's collage containing down-market Spam, and the implication that McHale, the Yale artist, can afford up-market ham in his luxury sitting room depicted in the Pop art collage.
26. Can you tell me more about the Ford logo? It is particularly interesting, given that Hamilton later did a series of works which paid homage to another American model of car - the Chrysler.
Some have erroneously concluded that Hamilton was the design creator of the poster collage for This is Tomorrow since it contains an automobile logo, and because he is later identified with his Chrysler series of work. This is a facile conclusion. Maybe some members of an unwitting British audience sequestered in London with affinities to Hamilton would perhaps wrongly presume an American Chrysler is the same as a Ford auto. But let me assure you there is a great deal of difference between the two auto products since they are made by two different totally separate companies that are corporate rivals.
There are several important reasons why McHale placed the specific FORD logo in his Pop Art design. One reason is McHale appropriated the heraldry as his personal canting arms and inter-linked it iconically to his life. Another reason was McHale, while at Yale, toured the the American auto routes studying the impact of the automobile on mobility and roadside architecture such as diners, Howard Johnson's and fast food convenience stores that were quite unlike anything in Britain at that time. To reference this automobile roadside Pop culture McHale used the specific well-known Ford auto that was featured both in his collage and in the contemporary publicized national tourist campaign used to promote bi-coastal transcontinental travel on the iconic Route 66. The Ford was also identified closely with McHale's successful popular music composer friend, Frank Cordell, who worked with him on the preparations for This is Tomorrow.
Cordell had a brother in law with a Ford dealership and drove a brand new Ford Zephyr in that period. Cordell regularly parked his Ford outside the McHale/Cordell atelier at 52 Cleveland Square. Ford is also closely identified in numerous ways with Marilyn Monroe. The large image of Marilyn at Monroe at This is Tomorrow was provided by Frank Cordell at the request of my father. Marilyn is known to have exclusively driven numerous Fords of her boyfriends and her own in the late 1940's and early 1950's. Monroe was living low profile in Connecticut when McHale was at Yale in Connecticut. She was the Ford poster girl in the mid-1950's when McHale designed the poster collage for This is Tomorrow. In fact the poster of Marilyn was also used to successfully launch Ford auto products associated with that specific logo.
The specific Ford in McHale's Pop art collage featured plexiglas components, like the signature plexiglas pieces in McHale's Constructivist sculptures as displayed at the former automobile showroom at the Building Centre Exhibit in Store Street. Ford boasted a newly designed Y block engine, reminiscent of a Yale "Y" block, and also reminiscent of the numerous engine parts depicted in McHale's Machine Made America collage and many of his Telemath collages. The Ford logo is characterised by the colour "red" which is echoed in other elements of McHale's Pop Art collage design, and corresponds to the dictums of Albers, McHale's teacher at Yale, about the perception of the colour red.
The particular Ford in the Pop art poster is also associated with McHale's Irish mother, "Mammy" McHale, who is also referenced by several other attributes and the song by the jazz musician in the collage window. I am not able to fully divulge the full meaning of the Ford for personal reasons, but McHale had a Scots Irish mother referred to as 'Mammy' McHale and there is an iconic conceptual link to her both in the Warner's image and the Ford image. The personal reference to Mammy and Ford, I can assure you, runs quite deep. A full page colour photo spread of the particular Ford convertible depicted in McHale's collage design for This is Tomorrow was also clearly in evidence for many years pinned to his personal tack board over his bed in his studio at 52 Cleveland Square, and there are photos attesting to this still in the artist's family records.
27. And the moon? What does that refer to?
Part of the visual dynamics of the moon image in the collage links back to the Forbidden Planet and part back to the MARS group and part to Buckminster Fuller's Nine Chains to the Moon. While at Yale, McHale became good friends with Bucky Fuller who was lecturing at Yale. Later on, Bucky Fuller visited McHale in London at 52 Cleveland Square on numerous occasions and McHale introduced Bucky to the Architectural Association in London. I believe Munsinger, McHale's friend at the U.S. Embassy in London, was also involved in the coordination and facilitation between Bucky and the Architectural Association in London.
McHale had been introduced to Fuller by John Dixon, the linguist, who was also attending Yale. John Dixon had worked for Jack Masey at the USIA and it was John Dixon who identified Bucky as the only U.S. architect engineer capable of delivering the U.S. Dome Pavilion at the World Exposition in Afghanistan in the early 1950s. McHale and Bucky were also friends with the sculptor Isamu Noguchi. I think John Dixon, being prone to Zen mysticism, was also friends with Noguchi. Bucky had written a book in the 1930s called Nine Chains to the Moon which was a sort of literary collage of Bucky's early writings. One of the chapters is devoted to Fuller's ideas on "What is a house?" Another is on the 2000 year streamlining of society. McHale's collage parallels some of the same topics. The collage title asks why are today's homes so different? The subject of the collage is about the future and it contains images relating to streamlined automobile and product design. My surmise is that the Senses panel at This is Tomorrow was also probably influenced by Buckminster Fuller's ideas.
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