Sir Peter Blake’s Chiswick Empire artwork given to Gunnersbury Museum

Image above: Sir Peter Blake’s artwork of Chiswick Empire theatre

When asked to think of an image for Chiswick “that was the very first thing that sprang to mind” – Sir Peter Blake

The collage by Sir Peter Blake of the artists who performed at the Chiswick Empire theatre has been donated to the Gunnersbury Park Museum.

Abundance London commissioned the artist to design it when they created the Chiswick Timeline mural in 2017 and raised funds to refurbish the area of Chiswick Common by the railway bridge on Turnham Green Terrace, creating a piazza, installing new public benches and replanting the area.

At the opening of the piazza they unveiled Sir Peter Blake’s collage on a large (4 x 4 metre) sheet of vinyl, establishing a place for community artworks on the railway embankment which they have dubbed the ‘W4th plinth‘.

Since then every six months or so the artwork has been replaced by a new one. Artists apply to have their work shown and the winner is chosen by a committee which includes members of Abundance London and Sir Peter Blake.

There have been several successors to Blake’s collage of music hall performers at the Empire theatre – Penny the Orangutan by David Kimpton and Richard Lawton; Stay At Home collage by students at Chiswick School; A Quiet Sarnie Under the Tree of Life by Suzan Inceer and the most recent artwork to fill the space – a photograph of the earth from space, reproduced with the permission of NASA.

Max Miller and Liberace among the artists Sir Peter saw perform at the Chiswick Empire

Chiswick resident Sir Peter became known when he designed the album cover for the Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album, co-created with Jann Haworth. Their ‘fans’ in the collage were an interesting mix of celebrities and historical figures including Hindu guru Sri Yukteswar Giri, actress Mae West, comedian Lenny Bruce, dancer Fred Astaire and the 19th century British prime minister Sir Robert Peel amongst others.

“Crowds” are a recurrant theme in Sir Peter Blake’s work. His collage of music hall artists at the Chiswick Empire, demolished in 1959, included Jimmy Tarbuck, Marty Wilde, Tommy Cooper, Laurel and Hardy, Morcambe and Wise, Max Miller, Peter Sellers and Schnorbitz the dog, amongst others – 55 performers in all.

Max Miller was one of his favourites, he told The Chiswick Calendar.

“The very first time I came to Chiswick was to go to the Chiswick Empire, I’d never been to Chiswick before. Probably to see Tommy Steele I imagine, I was a regular visitor from then on and so when I was asked to do the Timeline and think of an image for Chiswick, that was the very first thing that sprang to mind, was to do something about the Empire.

“It was a tragedy it was ever pulled down” he told us in an interview in 2017.

Video above: Sir Peter Blake interviewed by Bridget Osborne in 2016 at the Bedford Park Festival Green Days weekend

Celebrating the contribution of LGBTQ artists

Sir Peter’s collage will now be shown at Gunnersbury Museum as part of their permanent collection.

“The Museum curators approached Abundance to acquire the work which offers important insight not only into the work of our most eminent local artist, but also to LGBTQ representation in the performing arts over the past century at the nationally famous Chiswick Empire Theatre” said Karen Liebreich MBE, director of Abundance London.

“At the time we created a second vinyl, in case of vandalism, which has never been displayed. Sir Peter signed this and we have kept it in safe storage, to be sold when Abundance London is in need of funds to continue its work. If any individual or organization is interested in acquiring this piece, please get in touch. Note that it is 4m x 4m!”

Images above: Steve Nutt and Karen Liebreich delivering Sir Peter Blake’s Chiswick Empire collage to the museum

Submissions open for the next community artwork to go on show

Submissions are now open for the next community artwork to be shown on the W4th Plinth, to be displayed on the railway embankment wall at Turnham Green Terrace.

“Your chance to go big for free on a prominent local site” said Karen.

The closing date is Saturday 31 December 2022 for display next year. Apply here: The Fourth Plinth for W4.

Images above: Artworks which have been shown at the W4th Plinth

Read more stories on The Chiswick Calendar

See also: The West End has a new star, former Chiswick student Adam Wadsworth

See also: Chiswick In Film – Location, location, location

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