Artworks and Artists of Independent Group

Progression of Art

1948

Dr. Pepper

Artist: Eduardo Paolozzi

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 - Tate Modern, London, United Kingdom

Peter and Alison Smithson: Smithson High School, Hunstanton, Norfolk (1954)
1954

Smithson High School, Hunstanton, Norfolk

Artist: Peter and Alison Smithson

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

1955

Head 3

Artist: William Turnbull

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 - Tate Modern, London, United Kingdom

1956

Head of a Man

Artist: Nigel Henderson

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 - Tate Modern, London, United Kingdom

1956-57

Figure (Woman)

Artist: Magda Cordell

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 - Tate Modern, London, United Kingdom

Richard Hamilton: Just what is it that makes today's homes so different, so appealing? (1956)
1956

Just what is it that makes today's homes so different, so appealing?

Artist: Richard Hamilton

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

1957

Telemath VI

Artist: John McHale

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 - Tate Modern, London, United Kingdom

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Content compiled and written by Rebecca Seiferle

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

"Independent Group Movement Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Rebecca Seiferle
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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First published on 26 Mar 2020. Updated and modified regularly
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