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Blake's Eight

By Rob Allanson
Sir Peter Blake is one of the UK’s most important artists; among his meister work, the iconic cover for The Beatles’ seminal album Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. As he approached his 80th birthday, the artist, who has a long-standing connection with The Macallan,(having designed the label which adorned the first 12 bottles of the highly collectable Macallan 1926) has teamed up with the distillery to help create a limited release series of miniatures, celebrating the eight decades of his life.

The project is the result of a collaboration between the celebrated godfather of British pop art and the highly regarded writer Hugh Bredin, cabinetmaker Phil Lardner, graphic designer Professor Philip Cleaver and Art Director Stuart Newman, result-ing in the Blake @LXXX Collection; an oak box divided in to eight sections, each decade having a backdrop and artefact designed, inspired or chosen by Sir Peter Blake. Alongside a book about Blake’s incredible life the box also holds miniatures of different Macallans from the last eight decades, the labels were designed by the artist himself.

Creative director David Holmes was the man tasked with creating a piece of artwork that would celebrate not only the life of the great artist, but also eight decades of The Macallan. “I thought the best thing would be to illustrate the four elements that go into making whisky: air, fire, earth and water, so everything in the artwork box is associated with that,” he explains.

“The concept came up on the eve of my 80th birthday,” notes Blake, whose remarkable studio in London and its treasure trove of images and historical ephemera provided the themes. “Going through eight decades in my mind was quite difficult to establish. Certain motifs have occurred over the years: like a star, or a heart or a target. I suppose you could call it a ‘Peter Blake style’.”

After arriving at art school at the age of 14, Blake’s career entered its first phase of recognition in the early 1960s. “[Seminal British director] Ken Russell made a film called Pop Goes The Easel which focused on pop art and at the same time, The Sunday Times did their first colour supplement, which I featured in. I also won the John Moores paint-ing prize up in Liverpool, as well as having my first one man art show,” explains Blake.

Outside of his association with the ‘Fab Four’ and more recently, album covers for Oasis and Paul Weller, Blake has amassed an innumerable archive of objects and collections, which have helped to define his artistic direction. “All kinds of things inspire me,” he points out. “A lot of my art has been about other art. I collect for the sake of collecting and use collections to make art with. Certainly in my studio, the collections are all over the place!”

The whiskies used in the miniature bottles also demonstrate an incredible journey throughout the last century of The Macallan warehouses, draw-ing on expressions from the 1930s through to the 2000s, taken from the distillery’s Fine & Rare collection. The oldest whisky in the series comes from 1937, each sub-sequent miniature working its way through the decades including a 1949, a 1952, a 1969, a 1976, a 1989, a 1997, the youngest being distilled in 2002. The labels, which Blake designed, are each reflections from his last eight decades, starting with a photo of the artist as a child, a Spitfire and finishing up with a photo of Blake as he looks today.

For David Holmes, developing this intriguing piece of work in collaboration with such an iconic artist has clearly left a lasting impression. “When you see it for the first time, it just resembles a wooden box. But then you open it and realise this ‘wow factor’ and colour, which is what Peter Blake is all about. There are also a few unanswered questions too, and if you look carefully, there are some hidden secrets!”
250 editions of The Macallan ‘Blake At 80’ have been made available for sale, including a hand signed book from the artist and priced at £4,500.

For more details, visit www.themacallan.com.