This major retrospective of work by Richard Hamilton, curated by Stephen Coppel of the British Museum, explores the artist’s engagement with James Joyce’s novel Ulysses, which has haunted Hamilton’s imagination for more than fifty years. The exhibition includes watercolours and studies from the late 1940’s, a magnificent group of large-scale etchings completed during the 1980’s, through to two recent computer-generated Iris prints. The exhibition opened in June 2001 as part of the 24th International Biennale of Graphic arts in Ljubljana, close to where Joyce began writing Ulysses in Trieste.

The exhibition demonstrates how Hamilton’s thoughts and ideas about Joyce have evolved and matured over the years. Hamilton originally conceived the idea of creating a new, illustrated artist’s book edition of Ulysses during his National Service in 1947 when, confined to barracks for long periods of time, he was able to study the novel in depth. Hamilton’s solution to the difficulties of illustrating Ulysses was to create a pictorial equivalent for individual events by adopting a different style for each episode as an intellectual challenge that Joyce had laid out for him.

Following much earlier exploratory discussions with Joyce’s publishers about an illustrated edition of Ulysses, Hamilton returned to the project in 1979 spurred on by the forthcoming Joyce centenary in 1982. He conceived the idea of making some independent large-scale etchings, one for each of the eighteen episodes. In the intervening thirty years, Hamilton’s reading of Ulysses has deepened, while his expertise with the different printmaking processes has established him as a leading contemporary artist-printmaker.

For this project, Hamilton developed a 220 page exhibition catalogue, documenting his entire Ulysses output for the first time.