Summary of Independent Group
The Independent Group were a key part of the transition in the British art world from the grey austerity of the post-World War II period to the technicolor explosion of the 1960s. Their work laid out the pre-Pop basis for British Art in the second half of the 20th century by responding to new influences, most explicitly American-style advertising, movies, and new fashions. With the group committed to fresh and innovative expression, they produced art that referenced this culture shift extensively, particularly through collage, abstract sculpture, and architecture.
The group remained a close association of artists centered around the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London throughout the early 1950s, and included a number of influential artists that would go on to find significant critical and commercial success in later decades. These artists dismissed the elitism of the art world, and made work which reflected the changing emphasis of the era towards the young, creative and free.
Key Ideas & Accomplishments
- The Independent Group's art reflected the unique period of cultural shift in which it was created - the immediate post-war period of the 1950s. Artist's work reflected both the psychological scarring of WWII and the new optimism that emerged with the advent of consumer culture and the end of rationing in Britain. Representations of abundance were therefore often tinged with hollowness or satirized society's preoccupation with the new consumerism.
- Collage was a key characteristic of many of the artworks that emerged from the Independent Group, a technique which also reflected the process of reconstruction happening in Britain at the time. American consumer magazines in particular, which had begun to filter into the country as international travel became more possible, were revelatory to many of the artists in their color and vibrancy. Several artists used images clipped from these publications as raw materials or the basis for their imagery.
- Artists within the Independent Group were committed to collaboration in both the production of their work and its display - thus blurring the conventional notions of authorship that had previously governed the British art market. Their display of their works in gallery setting also subverted convention, as works would often be displayed together in a collage-like fashion, sometimes with little indication of which artist had created what.
- Although a British movement, several of the artists within the Independent Group were not originally British, and there is a sense of new and expansive openness to the influence of other cultures and experiences in much of their work. Artists were committed to new forms of expression, and a subversion of staid forms in anticipation of the future.
Artworks and Artists of Independent Group
This collage is composed of cartoons and advertisements from American magazines, and is meant to convey the artist's view of America as an "exotic society, bountiful and generous." A new kitchen range, a man on a motorcycle, an attractive woman on a phone, a new car, and a bottle of Dr. Pepper, create a montage of the American post-War boom, as advertisements marketed new technology as part of an alluring lifestyle.
This work was included in his series BUNK! (1947-52), a series of 45 collages, which Paolozzi projected on a screen at the first meeting of the Independent Group in 1952. As art critic Frank Whitford wrote, "For most of his audience the juxtaposition of the weighty and trivial, the artistic and technological, were a revelation. The collages suggested a radically new aesthetic." Paolozzi had a childhood fascination with American advertising images, and the abundance and colour of such images in 1948 would have contrasted harshly against the dire state of the British economy after the devastation of WWII. While studying at the Slade School of Art, Paolozzi began using these images to make collages, cutting them from whatever popular magazines were available and combining them into riots of excess.
Graduating in 1947, and following the success of his first solo exhibit, he moved to Paris where he collected more images from American magazines, brought over by American servicemen, to make works such as this one. One of the images included in BUNK!, this collage conveys both the title's meaning as "rubbish," and Henry Ford's statement from which the title was taken that "History is more or less bunk.... We want to live in the present." Unlike the series' other collages, which often include advertising slogans, militaristic images or images from science fiction magazines, this particular work emphasizes the glamour of the American lifestyle, composed of cars, convenience foods, and cartoon characters.
Informed by his knowledge of Dada and Surrealist collages, Paolozzi's images compellingly portrayed the distinction between America's emerging consumer culture and his own poverty, which was exacerbated by the extreme rationing in London at the time. He described his collages as "where the event of selling tinned pears was transformed into multi-coloured dreams, where sensuality and virility combined to form, in our view, an art form more subtle and fulfilling than the orthodox choice of either the Tate Gallery or the Royal Academy' Collage." Paolozzi approached his work as a sculptor, by collaging various materials and ready-made objects into a single figure, a method which, as Whitford noted, "remained central to Paolozzi's methods, both as printmaker and sculptor, for the rest of his career. Everything he created began as an accumulation of unrelated images culled from a wide variety of sources which, when rearranged, achieved a new and surprising unity."
Printed papers on paper - Collection of the Tate, United Kingdom
Smithson High School, Hunstanton, Norfolk
This building, which is made of assembled pre-fabricated components and based on a long rectangular plan, has two stories and draws attention to its predominance of glazed glass and its exposed structure. This includes its galvanized steel framework and its water tower's steel tanks. Known locally as the "glasshouse," the emphasis upon the raw and readymade materials used to construct the building led Reyner Banham to celebrate it as a pioneering example of New Brutalism. He noted, "the building is almost unique among modern buildings in being made of what it appears to be made of...One can see what Hunstanton is made of, and how it works, and there is not another thing to see except the play of spaces." Still open today, the school's website states, "the ground breaking design of our main building personifies the qualities that we still develop in our students today; strength, integrity and excellence." The Smithsons' design won a 1949 architectural competition for the school, which became their first major commission and effectively launched their careers. However, due to rationing and austerity in Britain at the time the building wasn't completed until 1954. The project would have required the county's entire steel ration until 1953, when more materials became available.
Banham described the architects as "the bell-wethers of the young throughout the middle Fifties." As architectural critic Steven Parnell explained, they were seen as, "the architectural equivalent of the 'angry young men' of the Kitchen Sink social realism art movement, determined to break down the barriers between high and low culture and to establish themselves ahead of institutions such as the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) and The Architectural Review." The Smithsons saw Brutalism as "an ethic, not an aesthetic," as they wanted to focus on functionality connected to ordinary life in the post-war era. As Alison Smithson wrote, "My act of form-giving has to invite the occupiers to add their intangible quality of use", a focus that prioritizes those using the building rather than outside observers. As Steve Parnell wrote, the design "was a rare glimmer of hope for architects wishing to reconstruct a post-war Britain in the modern idiom."
As active theorists and writers as well as designers, the Smithsons played a leading role in the Independent Group, providing much of the conceptual basis of the architecture attached to the movement. They also played a role in other architectural developments, particularly as core members of Team 10, which described itself as "a small family group of architects who have sought each other out because each has found the help of the others necessary to the development and understanding of their own individual work." In 1956 the Smithsons designed a 'House of the Future' prototype for the Daily Mail Ideal Homes Show that primarily used molded plastic in order to create what they called an impression of "glamor," while also emphasizing consumer culture, and the technological innovation that drove it. The concept of the 'House of the Future', echoing their molded plastic fittings and fixtures and bright colour pallet has become an enduring archetype in modern British architecture.
Steel, brick, glass - Norfolk, United Kingdom
This bronze abstract sculpture is ovoid in shape, emphasizing its skin-like texture that, by being deeply slashed and violently gouged, evokes the ruined features of a human head. Lying on its side and disembodied, the form takes on the suggestion of an artifact, subjected to destructive forces but persisting. In the mid 1950s, Turnbull began exploring the motif of the disembodied head in his paintings and sculptures, as he said that the word "head," "meant for me what I imagined the word 'Landscape' had meant for some painters - a format that could carry different loadings." He added, "The sort of thing that interested me was - how little will suggest a head, how much load will the shape take and still read head, head as colony, head as landscape, head as mask, head as ideogram, head as sign, etc." Head 3 is a clear example of this exploration of the shape, its damaged silhouette suggests threat or the aftermath of violence. The emphasis upon the form's raw materiality and the inclusion of the violent marks of the artistic process was seen by Reyner Banham as an artistic expression of Brutalism.
Born and raised in Scotland, Turnbull first worked as a laborer before beginning to study illustration and then turning to sculpture. Whilst studying at the Slade School of Fine Art in London, he became friends with the fellow Scottish artist Eduardo Paolozzi. Art critic Michael McNay described how, "The two discovered their mutual enjoyment of comic book images - Paolozzi was probably the first artist to employ them directly in his work - and, from Paolozzi, Turnbull learned the direct approach to sculpture, modeling in cement or in wet plaster around an armature, neither of them methods encouraged by the Slade at that time." Incising and gouging the wet plaster with ordinary objects like pencils and pen points, before casting the shape in bronze, Turnbull said he wanted "texture to invoke chance, to create random discoveries, not elaborate the surface, but to accentuate that it was a skin of bronze." At the same time he adopted the non-hierarchical artistic approach of the Independent Group and left the display of the sculpture to chance, encouraging viewers to handle the objects. The simplicity of Head 3 echoes the work of Constantin Bracusi, whose Paris studio Turnbull visited in the late 1940s when he was studying at Slade. It's primary influence however may be that of Jean Fautrier's Otages (1942-45) series, produced at the end of World War II, which were described by art critic Andre Malraux, as, "A hieroglyph of pain."
By the mid 1950s, Turnbull had become interested in ethnographic objects that he studied in the British Museum. As art historian Toby Treves wrote, "Turnbull...shared...a specific interest in the theme of the abstracted, assembled head and a more general desire to break cultural hierarchies. While Paolozzi's challenge to the traditional separation of high and low culture involved the direct incorporation into his work of elements from the mass media and the technological world, Turnbull's work, which fed off an equally wide range of cultural sources, among them tribal art and natural forms, did so only obliquely."
Bronze - Collection of the Tate, United Kingdom
Head of a Man
This collage depicts the head and upper body of a man. It is composed of many small slivers cut out of photographs of Henderson, layered together to reform a single image. This work was shown in the This is Tomorrow exhibition and appears to be inspired by Dada's 'portraits' that showed an anonymous figure or social type, as a collage, composed of distressed cutouts. As art critic Tom Dyckhoff later wrote, "Dominating the scene was Henderson's sinister Head Of A Man, an extraordinary photocollage made up of slivers of his images. It was his warning about the persistence of alienated man, as everyone bounced into a consumerist future." The intense gaze of the figure and skeletal structure of his face emerges from the ruin of overlapping images, perhaps reflecting the wartime ruins that the artist worked amongst. It is a haunting image, an identity reassembled after being torn apart.
The preoccupation with the image of the disembodied head, often fractured, decayed, or scored by violent lines was similarly expressed in the sculptures of both Eduardo Paolozzi and William Turnbull, reflecting the psychological scars of the post-war era. After the war and recovering from a nervous breakdown, Henderson began, as art critic Tom Dyckhoff noted, photographing "fragments from the world before the war. Its remains seemed to comfort him." The artist called photography his "saving lifeline" and said in his photography he looked for "the marvellous, the thing that you can never quite achieve except in dreams - the super-real."
A restless innovator, Henderson first became known for his street photography, then in the late 1940s began experimenting with what he called "stressed" photographs by stretching and distorting the paper. He collaborated with Eduardo Palazzo to make what he called "Hendograms," for which they used objects from London bombsites to make photograms. Subsequently he collaborated with Richard Hamilton in making Hendograms that conveyed the "super-real" resemblances of their images to scientific images. Both his collaborative spirit and his photo-collages had a significant impact on the ethos of the Independent Group.
Photographs on paper on hardboard - Collection of the Tate, United Kingdom
This visceral painting depicts a distorted female form, illustrated by a series of thickly painted sack-like forms with smaller, skeletal arms and hands. The highly textured surface of the impasto surges with networks of raw color, giving the figure a primeval vitality, akin to that of the Venus of Willendorf (a statue said to be made 30,000 years ago). Cordell hoped to create a new visual iconography that would help, as she said, to "prevent the repetition of the inhuman and unseemly past." Art critic Jacquelynn Baas wrote that the artist's figure depicts the "triumph of the human organism over injury and change," a reading which Cordell might have endorsed, reflecting her description of her own interests and preoccupations as an artist: "When your car breaks and you take it to a garage they have to replace the whole of the defective part. But they can cut away huge pieces of your internal organs and you will grow them again or compensate for their loss. And also, all the time that your body is renewing itself, so in your lifetime you are remade countless times. This to me is an incredible thing."
Born Magda Lustigova to a Jewish Hungarian family, as a young woman Cordell fled Nazi occupation for Egypt and Palestine, where she became a translator for British intelligence. Intelligence operations were a relatively common form of national service for artists during WWII, with the application of their unique visual and interpretive skills useful to the war effort. Following the war, she moved to London with her husband Frank Cordell, a British composer who had also been working for British intelligence when they met. The Cordells formed a studio with the artist John McHale and became actively involved in the Independent Group. Her work, first exhibited in 1955, drew extensive critical acclaim, with Reyner Banham in particular writing in "New Brutalism" that her work's raw materiality exemplified the visual component of the new movement. Like other members of the Independent Group, Cordell was keenly aware of both World War II's destructive impact and the threat of the new nuclear era, even as she sought a powerful iconography of the female body. Art historian David Mellor noted that the artist's figures, "act as signs for an internal and - crucially - maternal body, unrepresented in British art of this moment... However, a new fear...is present here...the hellish terror of 'atomic dust,' of the cancerous glows vented at the heart of the nuclear pile...These tumours swell and wither on the painted ground of an imaginary body which resists over-coding by consumption."
Deeply interested in science fiction and the scientific theories of leading thinkers, including those of R. Buckminster Fuller, in the early 1960s Cordell became a leading figure in futurology, or the prediction of how future societies will operate and how life will be experienced. In the early 1960s, following her divorce from Cordell, she married John McHale and the two moved to the United States where they worked with Buckminster Fuller. In 1968 they founded the Center for Integrative Studies at the State University of New York in Binghamton.
Oil paint on hardboard - Collection of the Tate, United Kingdom
Just what is it that makes today's homes so different, so appealing?
This now well-known collage, which was created for the cover image of the This Is Tomorrow exhibition in 1956, is composed of cropped and excised images from American magazines. A flexing muscleman poses with a large Tootsie Pop covering his groin at a suggestive angle, while on the couch a woman wears a lampshade on her head and pasties, as she, too, turns to face the viewer. Modern conveniences and status symbols, much in demand by the American middle class populate the scene; a large canned ham on a coffee table, a TV image, a large Ford Motor Company crest like a family coat of arms, and a state-of-the-art tape recorder. Both the interior and its Adam and Eve-like duo are meant for display. The primary focus is on the object and latest gadgets, with the woman cleaning at the top of the stairs, for example, far less noticeable than the large vacuum cleaner she pulls. On the back wall, a large poster of an image from Young Romance, a popular comic, dwarfs a black and white portrait, suggesting that images of consumer culture are not only equal to but actually overshadow fine art.
Hamilton noted that he had included "comics (picture information), words (textual information) [and] tape recording (aural information)," in the image. These represented all the elements of a new era of information overload. Hamilton drew the raw materials for this work from the illustrated magazines that John McHale had brought home after a year spent at the Yale School of Art. The title, taken from an ad in a 1955 issue of Ladies' Home Journal for Armstrong Floor's new linoleum, reflects how the work is meant, as described by art critic Alastair Sooke, "as a parody of American advertising in the exploding, post-war consumer culture of the '50s". Nonetheless, while this 'new world' (literally reflected in the planetary image on the ceiling) is dominated by materialism, as even its inhabitants market themselves through their poses it has what Sooke called, a "sexy, effervescent atmosphere."
While expanding public and artistic recognition for the Independent Group, the This is Tomorrow exhibition became widely acclaimed as the launch of British Pop Art and made Hamilton famous. Invited to teach at the Royal Academy of Art following the exhibition, he became a leading teacher, influencing British artists Peter Blake, David Hockney, and Bryan Ferry, and the American Roy Lichtenstein, among others. As Sooke noted, the work, "is often described as the first work of Pop Art, perhaps even its manifesto," with Hamilton forever being regarded as the pioneering (and often leading) practitioner of British Pop.
Collage - Kunsthalle Tübingen, Tübingen, Germany
This collage depicts two robotic figures composed of cut out images from newspapers and magazines, their shapes outlined against a patchy red background. The figure on the left is shown with camera lenses for eyes and a zipper running down its neck to a rectangle that evokes a control panel, whilst the figure at right has less clearly legible features. Held by the ovoid-headed figure as if it were almost an implement, its rectangular head, outlined in red, is filled with a montage of words, including 'war' and 'great', displayed against a singular 'window' on the back wall. Tearing bits of paper and images from American publications, McHale created the figures to be, as he described, a "'palimpcestuous layering of signs," to reflect an era defined by new technology. The art critic Robert Freedman described the artist's series of eight 'telemaths' as the "media-fed man."
McHale demonstrated his interest in modern technology first by beginning to make Transistor collages in the early 1950s, using the visual qualities of electronic components and then-new technology to signify its impact on cognitive systems. He used torn up pieces of paper, newspapers, and images to create what art historian Jacquelynn Baas described as a "visual equivalent for the processing of information", where the bits and pieces could be seen as raw data, capable of being reconfigured and reordered. As art historian Toby Treves wrote, McHale saw the invention of the transistor in 1948, as "contributing to a structural change in the way in which culture was consumed and understood. In the age of mass communication and reproduction the work of art as a single, discrete object was, in his opinion, no longer viable...the distinction between high and low culture had been undermined by the proliferation of radio and television in which the two were constantly being mixed together." This description and ethos reflects the process of collage itself, suggesting the parallel that McHale was keen to explore. McHale's interest in technology and science led to his late 1950s collaboration with R. Buckminster Fuller, and in 1960, along with his wife Magda Cordell, he moved permanently to the United States where the two became pioneering figures in futurology.
The telemath series followed after McHale's visit to the United States where he studied with Josef Albers at the Yale School of Art from 1955-56 and returned home with a collection of materials from American publications. This stash of bright American publications became a treasure trove for his collages, as well as for other artists in the Independent Group. As Treves noted, "This direct encounter with the United States, particularly its popular culture, was a seminal moment in his development as an artist. Thereafter his collage, which previously had focused on the manner of communication in the modern age, presented personages actually constructed from mass media cuttings."
Oil paint and printed paper on hardboard - Collection of the Tate, United Kingdom
Beginnings of Independent Group
In 1952, Eduardo Paolozzi led the first official meeting of the Independent Group (IG). Influenced by Italian Futurism, Dada and Surrealism, the group's name emphasized its independent stance. As art critic Tom Dyckhoff wrote, "what they opposed was the establishment" and the existing tenets of British modernism, "whether the rarefied, elitist Bloomsburys or the modern-lite, democratic, Festival Of Britain consensus, whose sheen was already fading". The group instead emphasized the influence and potential of accessible popular culture, with their leading critic Lawrence Alloway writing that this consisted of, "movies, science fiction, advertising, pop music. We felt none of the dislike of commercial culture standard among most intellectuals, but accepted it as fact, discussed it in detail, and consumed it enthusiastically". They primarily reached the public through their immersive and collaborative exhibitions, beginning with Parallel of Art and Life in 1953.
Due to the overlapping of artistic interests and theory, as well as the IG's emphasis on collaborative works, various artists in the group were simultaneously identified with both British Pop and Brutalism. The two movements shared the Independent Group's intent to "form a 'new attitude' responding to and repairing the psychological, social and physical scars of the nation" following World War II. This new art and architecture was, as Dyckhoff wrote of Nigel Henderson (one of the founders of the group), to be focused on "the 'real', as well as being angry, "anti-intellectualising" and "about the visceral experience of modern ordinary life. It would come from, not be imposed upon, the streets".
The Independent Group drew upon a number of influences, particularly Jean Dubuffet's Art Brut, Dada collages, the work of Jean Fautrier (which began Art Informel), and the consumer culture of the United States. Dubuffet emphasized the naïve technique of children's art, the art of those with mental health issues and self-trained artists as reflecting a raw sense of experience unmediated by notions of training and skill. Art Brut emphasized texture, rough surfaces, bold but crude outlines and simple shapes to convey a visceral materiality, attuned to the destructive effects of WWII and the resulting emphasis on survival. Fautrier began his Osages (1942-45), a series of paintings and sculpture in response to the executions of resistance fighters in Nazi-occupied France, which he witnessed while in hiding. His depictions of human heads and body forms also employed highly textured surfaces but the amorphous shapes conveyed a sense of bodily dissolution and disintegration. The focus on texture and bold outlines would filter through to the work of the Independent Group.
Dada collages, a form which was pioneered by artists like Hannah Höch, used images from mass publications in response to the effects of World War I and its aftermath, which in turn influenced the IG's extensive use of collage in response to their own post-war period. However, as exemplified in the work of Eduardo Paolozzi, the collages of the IG used the advertising images of popular American magazines and new products to create a very different aesthetic vocabulary. Rather than Dada's focus on historical and societal absurdity, Paolozzi's loud, often humorous, collages celebrated the slick vitality of American culture, its emphasis on "now," and the latest gadgets and products. In a sense, two dominant and somewhat contradictory trends marked the work of the IG, as colorful collages conveying emerging consumer culture were displayed next to collages and sculptures that expressed the ruin and scarcity of post-war Britain.
Nigel Henderson has been called by art historian David Sylvester the "seminal figure" of the Independent Group, which adopted what Tom Dyckhoff called "his obsession with the leftovers of ordinary life [that] earned him the nickname "the John Betjeman of rubbish", referencing the popular satirical poet. After World War II, Henderson had turned to Street Photography, which he called his "saving life line", as a way of recovering from military service that had ended in a nervous breakdown. Studying at the Slade School of Fine Art in the late 1940s, he became lifelong friends and artistic collaborators with Eduardo Paolozzi, who would come on to become the other main personality within the Independent Group.
Paolozzi's work also followed on from his unique wartime experiences (he was detained for much of it, as an Italian living in Britain), as well as his later work in Paris, where he got to know significant European post-war artists like Alberto Giacometti. Paolozzi's knowledge of Surrealism and Dada that came out of this time would later influence his work as one of the most highly regarded British Pop Artists. His interest in comic strips, advertisements, and images from popular American magazines, and awareness of collage, led him to pioneer early pop creations such as "I was a rich man's plaything" (1947), a prescient piece for the work that came later out of the IG.
In 1952 Paolozzi led the first meeting of the Independent Group where he projected images from BUNK! (1947-52), a collection of 45 collages, introducing a way of making art that would prove revelatory to his assembled peers. As art critic Frank Whitford wrote, "For most of his audience the juxtaposition of the weighty and trivial, the artistic and technological, were a revelation. The collages suggested a radically new aesthetic."
After this, Henderson's work with photography continued to develop, and he began experimenting with what he called "stressed" photographs by stretching and twisting the paper to create new and abstract visual effects. He also made photographic collages, sometimes combining his own images with those from mass media. When Paolozzi gave him a photographic enlarger, the two began creating photograms (which Henderson called "Hendograms") of objects, which were often taken from bombsites. Restlessly inventive, his experimental approach and emphasis on collaboration became key qualities of the work within the IG more generally, as collaborative work was made by Henderson, the Smithsons, Richard Hamilton, Paolozzi, and others. Paolozzi was also friends with Jean Dubuffet and the British architects Alison and Peter Smithson, becoming a kind of bridge between Dubuffet's Art Brut and the emergence of what Reyner Banham dubbed "New Brutalism" (a movement now simply referred to as "Brutalism").
Parallel of Life and Art (1953)
The Independent Group's Parallel of Life and Art exhibition opened in 1953 at the Institute for Contemporary Arts in London, organized by Paolozzi, Henderson, and the Smithsons. Many of the works shown were the result of artistic collaboration between the artists of the group. This was also true of the exhibition itself, which was presented as a kind of collage, with images hung as if randomly placed to create a non-hierarchal but immersive space. Critic Tom Dyckhoff described the effect of the environment, "You were assaulted on all sides by a seemingly random assembly of images, held up by invisible fishing twine, forcing you to make analogies between, say, Dublin's modernist bus garage and Machu Picchu, the tribal tattooing of an Eskimo bride and mud patterns on Grimsby's shoreline. It was like entering someone's head." The juxtaposition of images from a wide range of cultural sources without any particular rationale was meant, as the Hepworth-Gallery later described, to emphasize "the importance of photography, mass-produced imagery, architecture and design to avant-garde art."
Man, Machine, and Motion (1955)
The Independent Group took inspiration not only from consumer culture and mass media imagery, but also from new technology, science, and industrial design. Richard Hamilton and Nigel Henderson took an early lead in pioneering the use of this imagery. In 1951 the two artists held a Growth and Form exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, emphasizing what they called the "super-real" resemblances between their Hendograms and images taken by electron microscopes or from film. In 1955, Richard Hamilton organized a project and exhibition, 'Man, Machine, and Motion' that debuted in a Newcastle gallery before also showing at the Institute of Contemporary Art. Along with some of his paintings the show included 176 photographs mounted on 54 panels, meant, as Hamilton wrote, as "a visual study of man's relationship with moving machines". The images were divided and displayed in four categories: Terrestrial, Aerial, Aquatic, and Interplanetary.
Peter Reyner-Banham shared Hamilton's interest in machine design and collaborated on the catalogue for the show, originally titled 'Human Motion in Relation to Adaptive Appliances'. Hamilton had become a professor at the University of Newcastle, where he played a leading role in establishing the intellectual framework of the Independent Group, as an influential teacher and artist. As he wrote, "all art is equal - there was no hierarchy of value. ...TV is neither less nor more legitimate an influence than, for example, is New York Abstract Expressionism", a tenet that became central not only to the IG but to the subsequent British Pop art movement.
This is Tomorrow (1956)
The group's last meeting was held in 1955. The following year, its final exhibition, This is Tomorrow, featuring the collaborative works of architects, artists and designers at the Whitechapel Gallery in London was met with near-universal acclaim. The show was divided into sections, presenting a number of immersive environments. Each section was organized by a distinct team of collaborators. The show launched the work of the Independent Group into public consciousness, while, at the same time marking the launch of British Pop Art. Richard Hamilton's What is it that makes today's homes so different, so appealing? (1956), used as the cover image for the exhibition's catalogue, was seen as "the first real work of [British] Pop art". His Fun House (1956), a section of the show created in collaboration with architect John Voelcker, which used monumental images of Marilyn Monroe and robots taken from cartoons, and a model of a bottle of Guinness, has also been referred to as the first pop environment. Though This is Tomorrow marked the official end of the group, collaborative efforts among the artists continued into the early 1960s without being under the banner of the IG.
Concepts and Styles
Collage and collage aesthetics are one of the most easily identifiable characteristics of the work of the group. From the first official meeting in 1952, where Paolozzi's shared collages from his BUNK! series (many of which used advertisements and images from American magazines), conversations were oriented around combination and recontextualization of existing visual elements. Paolozzi's collages suggested an entrancing and vital reality apart from everyday London life, which was a city still very much recovering from the destruction and scarcity of World War II. The emerging consumer culture in the United States, driven by a post-war boom in technology fascinated not only Paolozzi but also Richard Hamilton and John McHale. Collage was a way to exemplify the disorienting emergence of media and advertising as seemingly innocuous imagery that nevertheless communicated a powerful ideological message.
Contemporary critic Hal Foster described the IG's complex relationship with consumer culture, writing that "even as its critique of art tilted toward an advocacy of capitalist technology and spectacle, the Independent Group did point to a historic shift from an economy centered on production to one based on consumption, a shift that entailed a repositioning of the postwar avant-garde as well." By repurposing these images, artists like Paolozzi, Hamilton and McHale were able to make the drive to consume, conform and compete contained with the advertising more explicit, whilst still borrowing the engaging and striking bright aesthetics of the materials they used.
The Independent Group is most commonly associated in architectural terms with the concept of "Brutalism" which was first used in a 1953 issue of Architectural Design (where work and writing of the group was often featured). The description reflected the group's rejection of any arbitrary or hierarchal distinctions between art, commercial design, and architecture. Subsequently, in "The New Brutalism," an essay in a 1955 issue of Architectural Design, Reyner Banham, a leading theorist of the Independent Group, defined the movement, writing that it "has two overlapping, but not identical senses." He described the first as architectural, exemplified by the designs of Alison and Peter Smithson, and the second as visual art, informed by Dubuffet's Art Brut, and including the works of Cordell, Paolozzi, and Henderson. He also included a number of international artists, including Alberto Burri, Karel Appel, and Jackson Pollock.
Both the architecture and the visual art that Banham categorized as Brutalist emphasized the use of readymade and ordinary materials, such as concrete and prefabricated frame structures. This allowed buildings or sculptures to be 'collaged' out of readymade or precast components, and exhibiting a raw materiality. He wrote that the movement was " part of a world-wide revolution of the young against the accepted conventions of Life and Art, a reaction against the categorised responses of the connoisseur or aesthete, a reaction in favour of direct physical and emotional experience and involvement in the creative process."
Though the Smithsons completed few projects in the following decade, their designs, writing and theory made them the leading figures in British architecture for the next two decades. Perhaps most famously they designed and built Robin Hood Gardens, a Brutalist housing complex that was completed in 1972 and rapidly became a flashpoint of architectural debate and complex social critique well into the 21st century. Among the Smithsons' later projects were the "TECTA Landscape,", the TECTA Factory, and the Cantilever Chair Museum, built for the German furniture company in the hope of carrying on the Bauhaus tradition.
Writing for Architectural Review in 2012, Steve Parnell noted that the Smithsons' in particular made a "considerable and influential contribution to architectural culture." Their concept of Urban Reidentification, a form of urban architecture based upon intuitive spatial connections, derived from children's play, and can be seen as a theoretical underpinning of the work of Assemble, a British cross disciplinary collaborative that won the Turner Prize in 2015.
Many artists of the Independent Group used sculpture (usually in abstract form) to similarly explore their key ideas of a changing society, the psychological trauma of war and consumerism. William Turnbull was the most notable sculptor of the core group, drawing on his technical skill to create work which echoed the architectural ideas of the "brutalist" designers. This led to him using a wide range of materials to create his abstract works, which were often loaded with emotional significance tied to trauma or conflict. Turnbull was focused on the breaking down of cultural hierarchies through the engagement with other aesthetic histories, often drawing on ethnographic or historical objects from other cultures that he was able to access in the British Museum.
In the late 1950s Paolozzi also turned to sculpture, creating abstract figures with a similarly 'ruined' texture, collaged with readymade objects. In the 1960s he began to teach sculpture and ceramics in Germany and the University of California at Berkeley before focusing on silkscreens in the mid-1960s. His sculpture had an impact on later artists, including Stephen De Staebler and Peter Voulkos.
Turnbull later followed an idiosyncratic path, visiting New York in the late 1950s and becoming friends with Barnett Newman and Mark Rothko. Learning how to weld, he turned toward a more minimalist abstract idiom in his sculpture. In the 1960s, he began working in fiberglass and other new materials, and as a result of traveling in Japan and Singapore became influenced by Buddhist religious art. He went on to become one of Britain's most critically acclaimed sculptors.
Later Developments - After Independent Group
Following This is Tomorrow, the Independent Group continued collaborating, but increasingly individual artists and architects followed their own independent pursuits. Richard Hamilton began teaching at the Royal College of Art, where he become a leading practitioner of British Pop art, teaching new artists who would go on to be synonymous with Pop, including Peter Blake and David Hockney. He also began collaborations with German artist Dieter Roth and a number of American Pop artists, including Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol following a visit to the United States in the 1960s. His work continued to be influential within popular culture, perhaps most notably his cover design for the Beatles' White Album and his Swingeing London 67 (f) (1968-9), a screenprint based on a newspaper photograph of Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones handcuffed to the art dealer Robert Fraser during their arrest on drug charges. Hamilton's affinity for spectacle and kitsch influenced the Young British Artists of the 1990s, with Damien Hirst later dubbing him "the greatest."
The Independent Group continues to have an influence today as the precursor for several other movements in visual art and architecture and as the movement through which many now highly critically regarded artists were introduced to the art world. Many of the ideas that they pursued and the styles of work they engaged in creating have proven to be prescient of later trends and activities.
Recently several of the group's artists experienced renewed interest. Richard Hamilton's work had major retrospectives at the Tate and the Institute of Contemporary Art in 2014, and he was the subject of Liam Gillick's film Hamilton (2014). William Turnbull's solo exhibition of his sculptures was held at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park in 2005, and he was the subject of the documentary Beyond Time-William Turnbull in 2011. Whilst the individual practices of the artists involved tend to be better known than the efforts of the group as a whole, there is no question that the Independent Group made a major impact on the development of contemporary art in the UK.
Useful Resources on Independent Group
- 6k viewsThe Independent Group_ Eduardo Paolozzi.flv
- 9k viewsIntroducing Art & Artists | Eduardo PaolozziNational Galleries
- 1k viewsEduardo Paolozzi | Bunk! | Major Exhibition | Short PreviewGoldmark Gallery
- 8k viewsTate pays homage to pop-art icon Richard Hamilton - le mag
- 7k viewsRichard Hamilton: The Father of British Pop Art
- Nigel Henderson: An Independent EyeShort documentary
- 2k viewsEduardo Paolozzi LectureAA School of Architecture
- 4k viewsNigel Henderson | Animating the ArchivesTate / Victoria Walsh
- 1k viewsNigel Henderson: Street Photography in the 1950'sAA School of Architecture / Symposium
- 14k viewsPeter Saville on Richard Hamilton | TateShots
- 5k viewsRichard Hamilton at the ICA: Curator Tour
- 350 viewsJohn McHale and Magda Cordell interviewed in Fathers of Pop (1979)