Richard Hamilton


Richard Hamilton brought sharp intellect and in-depth understanding of modernism, and links between science and art to the Independent Group. Hamilton had trained as an engineering draftsman and worked at EMI during most of the Second World War. Following an abortive stint at the Royal Academy Schools and eighteen months of national service, Hamilton enrolled at the Slade where he met Nigel Henderson. Henderson introduced Hamilton to D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson’s Growth and Form (1917), Marcel Duchamp’s Green Box and to the epicentre of modernism in Britain, the ICA.

At the ICA Hamilton helped with the installation of the exhibition, James Joyce, His Life and Work in 1950, also designing the exhibition catalogue. He exhibited in the 1950: Aspects of British Art show and then staged his own exhibition, Growth and Form at the ICA in 1951. This was inspired by the biological writings of D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson. Therefore, the exhibition consisted of seventeen categories which concentrated on a separate aspect of the structure of growth and natural forms in nature, ranging from atomic particles to astronomy. Hamilton created a complete environment with the exhibition – blown up microphotographs and X-rays were incorporated onto screens, films showing crystal growth and the maturation of a sea urchin were projected onto the walls in order that the spectator could be totally engulfed. Growth and Form was crucial for the Independent Group’s formulation of the expendable aesthetic, as D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson rejected universal, Platonic explanations of the world in favour of something more empirical.

Richard Hamilton was at the first meeting of the Independent Group when Paolozzi showed the multifarious images from his scrapbook. Hamilton continued to help with exhibitions at the ICA, installing The Wonder and Horror of the Human Head for Roland Penrose in 1953. He also contributed a session on ‘New Sources of Form’ to the Aesthetic Problems of Contemporary Art series at the ICA in 1953. Hamilton presented a session on his Trainsition series of paintings to the first meeting of the 1954–5 season of the Independent Group. These paintings were also included in Hamilton’s first solo exhibition at the Hanover Gallery in 1955. The paintings reflect his experience of frequently travelling to Newcastle, where he was teaching at King’s College, now Newcastle University. They depict the view out of a moving train window of a car travelling at a different speed in the distance.

Hamilton’s fascination with speed and travel inspired the second exhibition he organised, Man, Machine and Motion at the Hatton Gallery, Newcastle and then the ICA in 1955. Again, a total environment was created with blown-up photographs of cars, deep sea divers, scooter riders and early aircraft. Hamilton’s most famous exhibition contribution was This is Tomorrow. He designed the space with John McHale and John Voelcker and its theme was problems of perception. It included a giant cut-out of Marilyn Monroe and Robbie the Robot – the latter borrowed from the opening of the film The Forbidden Planet – and a juke box. Each of the twelve groups involved with the exhibition designed a poster, and Hamilton designed Group 2’s, using a collage image that would be destined to become emblematic of 1950s, American consumer culture, Just What Is It That Makes Today’s Homes So Different, So Appealing? Hamilton continued to investigate the imagery of popular culture in his work of the later 1950s and 60s. Indeed, he also designed the cover of the Beatles’ White Album and poster in 1968. He has recently mounted a spirited defence of his authorship of the Just What Is It That Makes Today’s Homes So Different, So Appealing?

A page from Group 2's contribution to the 'This is Tomorrow' exhibition catalogue

A page from Group 2's contribution to the This is Tomorrow exhibition catalogue

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