2 Apr 2012

Why is Peter Blake’s new Beatles cover so ‘white’?

As Sir Peter Blake re-imagines his famous Beatles’ album cover, Channel 4 News asks the artist why there are so few non-white people in his latest version.

Sir Peter Blake's latest creation

Sir Peter Blake selects the British cultural icons of his life to mark his 80th birthday celebrations at Vintage Festival.

Sir Peter Blake is best known for designing the 1967 Beatles cover, Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, a colourful collage of life-sized cardboard models of famous faces together with the band.

The new artwork features names who have inspired Sir Peter – dubbed the godfather of pop art – over the decades.

It includes murder-mystery writer Agatha Christie, fashion designers Stella McCartney, Vivienne Westwood and the late Alexander McQueen, filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock, singer Amy Winehouse, artists Anish Kapoor, Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin and David Hockney, supermodel Kate Moss, TV cooks Fanny Cradock and Delia Smith, Harry Potter author JK Rowling – and Sir Paul McCartney once again.

When asked by Channel 4 News Culture Editor Matthew Cain why there are so few non-white faces Sir Peter said: “It didn’t occur to us.

“I think it’s probably just chance. In other circumstances it would have to have been politically correct and there would have to be a list of a certain number of people of colour – it didn’t occur to us.

“In fact there aren’t that many black painters, although there are lots of young black kids painting, there aren’t that many established black painters – it sounds awful, it sounds wrong but it wasn’t a question, it didn’t come up.”

‘I had a long list’

Sir Peter said: “I’ve chosen people I admire, great people and some who are dear friends.

“I had a very long list of people who I wanted to go in but couldn’t fit everyone in – I think that shows how strong British culture is and its legacy over the last six decades.”

When asked why Simon Cowell and reality TV stars were not included Sir Peter said: “It’s not that I don’t like Simon Cowell, I don’t like the show (X-Factor) so I certainly wouldn’t put him on there.

He added: “These are real stars, they (reality celebrities) aren’t real stars.

Sir Peter Blake also told Channel 4 News that he is “anti-Olympics” although he was “melting a little”.

It’s not that I don’t like Simon Cowell, I don’t like the show (X-Factor) so I certainly wouldn’t put him on there. Sir Peter Blake

“I think we should have let France do it and pay for it and we should have gone and competed there. I think so much money has been spent on it which should have been spread more.

He added: “I’m beginning to get a little bit excited about it … I just wish we hadn’t spent so much money.”

‘An honour’

Author Rowling said of her inclusion in the work: “Given that I’ve devoted quite a lot of time to gazing at the original Sgt Pepper album cover, you can perhaps imagine what it means to me to be selected. What an honour.”

Former Oasis star Noel Gallagher said: “When they told me I had been chosen I was obviously very chuffed. It’s nice to be recognised by as great an artist as Sir Peter Blake.”

Wayne Hemingway, who runs the Vintage Festival, said the work was “a tribute to Britain’s standing as the world’s leading creative nation”.

“Sir Peter is the godfather of British pop art and is still as passionate as ever about art and culture.

“It is truly an incredible honour to have him re-imagine such an iconic work of art and we are proud to be dedicating the Sunday at Vintage this year to celebrate his 80th birthday and creative and cultural legacy.”