Peter Blake Dazzle Ferry: This is one ferry ‘cross the Mersey we’re on board for

Susie Stubbs

A new work by the godfather of pop art has just been unveiled – and it’s one that invites you all aboard.

There’s something about seeing Peter Blake in the flesh – the godfather of pop art, the man behind one of the most recognizable record covers in the world – that’s slightly sobering. It’s not so much him, actually, as the attendant mass of paparazzi that thrashes about in his wake. So it was at the launch of his latest work, a ferry that’s been “dazzled” by some 800 litres of blisteringly bright paint. A group of photographers elbowed each other out the way to get a good snap of Sir Peter Blake as he stood on board, and it says much about the 82 year-old that, when asked if he’d stand on a wet, slippery bench perilously close to the railings, he merely shook his head.

There is, however, a reason that Blake’s arrival in Liverpool caused such a stir. The artist has strong links with the city. He first visited during his National Service in the 1950s, won the junior John Moores Painting Prize in the early 1960s (he’s now its patron) and has had two major shows at Tate Liverpool, one in 2000 and another seven years later. There is also the small matter of that Beatles album cover.

The paps asked the 82 year-old to get up on a wet, slippery bench perilously close to the railings

As for the ferry, Blake’s boat is the third “dazzle ship” in a series of commissions designed to mark the centenary of the start of WWI. Unlike the one created by Carlos Cruz-Diez last year, however, Everybody Razzle Dazzle is a moving work of art – literally. It’s a working ferry that will cross the River Mersey over 6,000 times, carrying an estimated one million passengers, all the while covered in an eye-popping, flag-waving, psychedelic design that, if it could sing, would be belting out “we’re Sgt. Pepper’s lonely hearts club band” at the top of its voice. While the artwork is the ferry itself, inside, exhibition panels tell the story of the many war ships that were painted (at the Cammell Laird shipyard across the river) with black and white “dazzle” patterns intended to confuse the enemy – and provide greater protection for boats vulnerable to both ship and submarine attack.

As a work of art, Everybody Razzle Dazzle struggles. It has neither the depth nor the narrative to sustain it beyond an initial  “woah, that’s bright” response. But as a piece of public art, it’s a triumph. It is a thing that will have thousands of people talking and thinking about its subject matter – the war – and the ways in which we now consider not just our war dead, but our collective sense of self. This is a wonderful, eccentric piece of art and it celebrates what it means to be us, now, in Liverpool, in the north. In fact, it celebrates what it means to be British – in all its complex, often frustrating, but occasionally dazzling forms.

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