The Independent Group

What is the Independent Group?

The Independent Group (IG) is a group of painters, sculptors, art critics, writers, and architects who met at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) in London. Young artists theorize and explore a challenging approach to art organizing collective exhibitions between 1952 and 1955. The art movement laid the foundation for the British Pop Art of the late 1950s and early 1960s. The leading artists of the Independent Group were Sir Eduardo Paolozzi, William Turnbull, John McHale, Richard Hamilton, and Nigel Henderson.

IG members opposed the dominant art of Post-War Britain, introducing among their artistic references mass culture and ordinary objects. They often used the technique of collage, as had already been implemented by Dadaism, Futurism, and Surrealism.

The label ‘independent’ emphasizes precisely their desire for an anti-academic rupture with traditional art. The critic Tom Dyckoff wrote about them that ‘what they opposed was the establishment’ of British aesthetics, from which they proclaimed themselves independent. The movement support art based on the inclusiveness of consumers and popular culture. They wanted to gather high and low culture.

Examples of Independent Group Artworks

  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:I_was_a_Rich_Man%27s_Plaything_1947.jpg, I was a Rich Man’s Plaything, Eduardo Paolozzi, 1947, Tate Britain. https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/paolozzi-i-was-a-rich-mans-plaything-t01462
  • https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/paolozzi-dr-pepper-t06935, Dr Pepper, Eduardo Paolozzi, 1948, Tate Britain
  • https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/henderson-head-of-a-man-t01939, Head of a Man, Nigel Henderson, 1956, Tate Britain
  • https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/turnbull-head-3-t05211, Head 3, William Turnball, 1955, Tate Britain
  • https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/mchale-telemath-vi-t07102, Telemath VI, John McHale, 1957, Tate Britain
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Hamilton-appealing2.jpg, Just what is it that makes today’s homes so different, so appealing? Richard Hamilton, 1956, Tate Britain, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/hamilton-just-what-was-it-that-made-yesterdays-homes-so-different-so-appealing-upgrade-p20271
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Hamilton-appealing2.jpg, Just what is it that makes today’s homes so different, so appealing?

History of the Independent Group

The Independent Group was the precursor to the English Pop Art movement, carrying forward innovative instances after meeting at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) of London. This artistic experience embodied the transition from the severity of the British post-war period and the entry into a future era, the 1960s, conditioned by technology, media, and advertising. Also, the techniques used by the group the independent drew on the changing values of advertising, cinema, and mass culture of the period. The group realized collages, abstract sculptures, as well as architecture (they were also involved in Brutalism), and photography. This new attitude in art, according to critics, was the reaction to the wounds inflicted by World War II; artists began to focus on what were the direct, real experiences of everyday modern life, rejecting the elitism and most intellectuals’ approach to traditional art.

The Independent Group acted as a coordinated movement. They organized meetings, conferences, and group exhibitions, after meeting at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) of London. Collaborative art and exhibitions started from the Independent Group‘s idea of drawing from low culture. IG members rejected the individualistic concept of authorship typical of the art world, preferring collaborative modes of art creation and display.

First Phase (1952-1953)

The first meeting of the Independent Group happened in 1952 and it was promoted by Sir Eduardo Paolozzi. The group discussed images from advertising and comics collected in the 1940s by the artist from American magazines and exhibited using a projector (epidiascope). This pop material, arranged in collages, composed what was his subsequent artwork BUNK! (1972) and Krazy Kat Archives, now at V&A Museum. Paolozzi realized in 1947 the collage I was a Rich Man’s Plaything, pioneering the Pop Art trend.

In this first phase (1952-1953), the Independent Group also focused on philosophical theory and discussions about technology, including not only fine art artists like Paolozzi, Hamilton, Turnball, and Toni del Renzio, but also photographers like Nigel Henderson, and critics and historians like Lawrence Alloway and Reyner Banham, adopting an interdisciplinary approach in their creative practice.

Second Phase (1953-1954)

The Independent Group experience continued focusing on providing a program of public lectures at the ICA, regarding the Aesthetic Problems of Contemporary Art. During this second phase of theorization and organization, also architects Alison and Peter Smithson supported the key members. The group also staged an exhibition at the Institute in 1953, called Parallel of Life and Art.

Another session of collaborative work explored the popular culture of the United States, focusing on movies, billboards, and pop music. The result was the exhibition in 1954 curated by art critic Lawrence Alloway and the collage artist McHale, Collages and Objects.

Another relevant exhibition organized by the Independent Group during this period was Man, Machine, and Motion. It was staged at Hatton Gallery, Newcastle, and the ICA in 1955.

Third Phase: This is Tomorrow (1956)

The third event organized by the Independent Group was among the most famous, attracting a broader public. The exhibition This Is Tomorrow (1956) at the Whitechapel Gallery of London was the synthesis of their popular theory and research about consumerist attitude. IG explore popular and commercial imagery, creating different environments and also using in their exhibition the tool of music, played in the loop by a jukebox. The artist Lawrence Alloway pointed out the references of IG knowledge in This is Tomorrow show: movies, science fiction magazines, advertising, and pop music.

Key-Concepts of the Movement

  • Independent Group‘s concerns reflect the moment of transition between Post War and the 1960s. Their artworks embody the fears and the psychological suffering of World War II but also the beginning of consumers’ mass culture.
  • The most characteristic media of the Independent Group was collage. The artists drew on the source of colorful magazines and strip comics. The process of collage also reflects the idea of reconstruction and combination of the historical period of the 1950s after WWII. It was also powerful to communicate social messages and a common sense of disorientation.
  • The Independent Group was characterized by a creative approach based on collaboration; the artists collaborated in the theorization, creation, and display of artworks. Their main idea was to defy the typical concept of authorship and individual work that conventionally ruled the art system.
  • The experience of the Independent Group was influenced by the International roots of the group, which was not completely of British origin. Among the main art influence, there are the Dadaists, for the poetics of found objects, Surrealists and Futurists for collages, and also French Art Brut and Informal Art.

Legacy in British Pop Art and Mass Culture

The Independent Group artists officially ended in 1955 but continued to meet for collaborative projects until 1962 and 1963. They also devoted themselves primarily to independent careers. Richard Hamilton, in particular, became one of the exponents of British Pop Art and, being a professor at the Royal College of Art, also influenced generations of subsequent artists. British Pop Art movement inspired artists such as David Hockney, but also Americans such as Andy Warhol or Roy Lichtenstein. The Independent Group‘s interest in kitsch and spectacle also influenced the Young British Artists of the 1990s, like Damien Hirst.

In 2004, the Tate Gallery in London organized a series of lectures dedicated to this pioneering artistic experience, reflecting on the legacy of the artists in the contemporary scene.

Notable Independent Group Artists

Independent Group Painters and Sculptors

Richard Hamilton (24 February 1922 – 13 September 2011), English

Nigel Henderson (1 April 1917 – 15 May 1985), English

John McHale (August 19, 1922 – November 2, 1978), British

Sir Eduardo Paolozzi (7 March 1924 – 22 April 2005), British-Scottish

William Turnball (1922), British-Scottish

Toni del Renzio (15 April 1915 – 7 January 2007), Italian-Russian

Independent Group Art Critics

Lawrence Alloway (17 September 1926 – 2 January 1990), English

Rayner Banham (2 March 1922 – 19 March 1988), English

Independent Group Architects

Colin St John Wilson (14 March 1922 – 14 May 2007), English

Alison Smithson (22 June 1928 – 14 August 1993), English

Peter Smithson (18 September 1923 – 3 March 2003), English

Related Arts Terms

  • Pop Art
  • Brutalism
  • Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA)
  • Surrealism
  • Futurism
  • Dadaism
  • Collage
  • Art Brut
  • Informal Art
  • Young British Artists