A giant collage designed by British artist Sir Peter Blake for Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group is unveiled in London today. The artwork, one of the world’s largest of its kind, takes inspiration from the iconic album cover he designed for The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band 50 years ago this year.
"It’s a continuation of the crowd idea which included Sgt. Pepper but began before that, and is a great vehicle to use when you want to put a lot of people together," says Sir Peter, who at 83 is still a leading and active figure in the art world and is often referred to as the "Godfather of British Pop Art."
"I embraced collage towards the end of my time at the Royal College of Art back in 1956 and loved the fact that you are controlled by the materials that existed—the paper images—so you worked within the limits of that," he explains.
For Sgt. Pepper, the technique he used involved using life-sized cut out figures and wax work figures of The Beatles as they appeared in the early 1960s, borrowed from Madame Tussauds, to build a giant collage against a wall which was then photographed.
"It was a technique I only used once," Sir Peter adds.
Despite the rise since of digital technologies with cut and paste tools capable of making the process far easier and more widespread, however, the appeal of collage today remains just as strong.
"I still make physical collages cutting out and sticking down paper—the old-school method. But the difference now is there are a variety of different processes I can choose from," he continues.
"Another way is to print a background as ink jet then assemble figures on a computer which are then cut out. Alternatively, you can do the whole thing on computer—which is what I did for the work for Mandarin Oriental, which is called 'Our Fans'—working with someone who does all the computer cutting out for me."
The size of 38 London double decker buses, "Our Fans" is a collage of 99 familiar faces—including Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren, Sir Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr—who are fans of the group’s hotels around the world, and will be used to cover the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park London’s iconic façade during major refurbishment.
It is a continuation of Mandarin Oriental long-running "Fans" campaign conceived in 1998 by Michael Moszynski and Alan Jarvie and now run through the advertising agency the pair founded nine years ago, London Advertising.
"The starting point was how to grow their global brand without doing what every other luxury hotel was doing: talking about luxurious lobbies, luxurious rooms, and luxurious pools—the things luxury clients had come to expect," says Moszynski.
"The number of the great and good who had stayed at Mandarin Oriental lent itself to a testimonial campaign. The problem with this kind of approach, however, was that in most cases you remember the celebrity, not the brand."
The answer was an elegant solution inspired by the brand’s fan-shaped logo.
A series of celebrity portraits was commissioned in which each personality was photographed where they felt most comfortable, sometimes at home. Each image was accompanied by the brand name and logo and the simple line "She's [or He’s] a fan." The campaign has since evolved to include filmed interviews with subjects about why they are brand fans and what else they are fans of for other media platforms and social sharing.
As striking as the campaign’s simplicity, however, was (and still is) that personalities are offered—and accept—a £10,000 donation to a charity of their choice for their involvement, rather than a more conventional (and larger) celebrity endorsement fee.
Sir Peter Blake’s involvement in designing the campaign’s latest installment follows an appearance by the artist in an earlier "Fans" ad created by London Advertising. And it has proven a fortuitous alliance. Permission from Westminster Council was required before "Our Fans" could be used to wrap Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park due to its scale. The council, which prefers advertising to run on official hoardings, has approved the collage as a piece of public art.
Currently, Sir Peter is developing a new artwork inspired by American artist, sculptor, and assembler Joseph Cornell. He is also contributing to a series of murals to be installed outside west London tube station Turnham Green with a work celebrating performers who appeared in the 1950s at the Chiswick Empire theater which once stood nearby.
But having used brand icons and advertising imagery in many of his own works over the years and as an on-going creative inspiration for many, he also remains in constant demand amongst ad industry creatives.
Just last year Sir Peter was approached by Smart Energy GB to create an artwork inspired by the rise of the smart meter and its likely impact on energy use and consumption. The resulting work, ‘Arrival of the Smart Metres’, featured a battalion of meters with human arms and legs.
Other recent brand projects, meanwhile, include designing a limited edition Pop Art Bentley car; transforming Liverpool’s Mersey Ferry into a moving artwork; creating a mural depicting the history of the Royal Albert Hall; redesigning the BRIT music awards winners’ statuette; and creating a poster for Coca-Cola.
"I do advertising but am not part of advertising—I’m an outsider, and when I do it I want to do it in a different way. There’s an awful lot of brands and ads I wouldn’t want to do anything with, and I’d never do something just for the fee," he insists. "So I only do a few and when I do it has to appeal."