The situation with Hancock and Paul is central to this misconception, that is, Paul who invites Hancock to share his studio in Paris is promoted as a talented artist whereas Hancock’s paintings are declared, by implication, to be rubbish. To return to John A Walker’s critique, many people would be unhappy about his assessment of Georg Baselitz’s work, however, he may endorse another artist that these same observers would find uninspiring. In the case of Paul, looking at the paintings he has produced it is clear that he is a mediocre artist. Yet, the reaction from the critic makes it seem like Sir Charles Brewer has discovered another Picasso or the like. Although Paul is a nice person, he is not charismatic. Hancock, on the other hand, is funny, he makes people smile, he contributes something to their creative impulse. Although this is parodied to hilarious effect in the scene with the poet in Paris, it is relevant. I come back to Andy Warhol. Warhol emerged as a tour de force of the New York avant-garde art scene only a year after The Rebel was released. Like Hancock, he was regarded at first as a “bad” artist, critics were said at the time to have perceived his art as “artless, style-less and anonymous”. It is said that he appalled the art establishment because he represented a complete transvaluation of the aesthetic principles that had dominated the art world for several generations. I am not saying that Hancock is an artist like Warhol in technical terms, what I am saying is that the established view towards his work is similar to the view of Warhol’s at the time. Warhol was an accomplished commercial artist (drawing shoes for magazines primarily). However, art critics and the general public for that matter did not get what he began to produce such as repeated images of Campbell’s soup cans and oversized Brillo box sculptures. Crucially, art was his living, his means of making money so he was, from the start, concerned with his work ethic. Even his place of production was later to be known as the “Factory” rather than the artier label of the “studio”. Warhol is said to have declared that “making money is art and good business is the best art”. There is an interesting scene in The Rebel where Hancock and Paul discuss their different approaches to making art. Hancock is cavalier declaring that he has had “a canvas twelve by eight filled in, framed and flogged before the first dab of paint is dry. Paul on the other hand is more serious, “it’s not like that for me” he says, “every brushstroke is torn out of my body”. Pauls reaction would have seemed strange to Warhol who maintained (to the irritation of critics) a detached, almost machine like relationship to his work. He would have been more in tune with Hancock. Other quotes credited to Warhol back this up, such as when he claims “art is what you can get away with” and “it’s not what you are that counts, it’s what they think you are”.
Looking at The Rebel with hindsight from the perspective of the late-twentieth/early twenty-first-century view of art history, it is not an exaggeration to say that it broke down some barriers between high and popular culture. I would describe The Rebel as a Pop-Art film which used various tools to express a contemporary view of art to the public, albeit dressed up in a comedic guise. The actual look of the film is a testament to this with the use of vibrant, eye-catching Technicolour, the way it incorporated the visual environment of the time with shots of commercial advertisements on billboards. It even nodded towards the idea of foreign holidays (Paris as a tourist destination), travel posters clearly visible in the coffee bar, cruise ships and glamour. This would have been a magnet for the viewing public and all the more so bearing in mind that Hancock was a connection to this world through the medium of television, he came into their living rooms regularly, he was known to them. Also, it is no accident that Frank Cordell of The Independent Group was commissioned to compose the music for the film. The Independent Group was founded in 1952 (Cordell and his artist wife Magda were both members), it is regarded as the precursor to the Pop Art movement in Britain. The makers of The Rebel were aware of the future world to come just as The Independent Group were when they staged the first Pop Art style exhibition in Britain in 1956, entitled This is Tomorrow. Far from being a low-brow exercise in philistinism, (an idea that was bandied about by some of its negators and which has, unfortunately, stuck to some extent) The Rebel was a box-office success, Hancock was even nominated to receive a BAFTA for his performance. The creators of the film were men of their time, existing in a world of popular culture, of entertainment, of new cultural possibilities. The Rebel was their homage to the cultural identity of the future.
Images (from top to bottom)
Hancock and Mrs Cravatte his landlady
Andy Warhol with Campbell's soup cans
Woman III - Willem de Kooning (1951-53)
Painting by LS Lowry (1963)
George Baselitz sculpture
Andy Warhol's Factory crowd