Friday, 9 May 2014

Growth and Form

Artist Richard Hamilton (1922-2011) was a key figure in the development of British art in the second half of the 20th century. He is usually described as the father of the British Pop Art movement, and indeed the 1960s marked his breakthrough to international critical and commercial success. However although Hamilton was a precocious talent he had to learn his trade through the conventional route and the British art schools of the preceding decades were not always the most inspiring places for intellectually experimental artists.
Once he had broken free from the shackles of the Royal Academy and Slade schools he taught at Newcastle (he had a great studio space there) and set about creating a series of groundbreaking exhibitions through the 1950s, which not only showcased fresh work and a new generation of artists, but allowed him to experiment with exhibition environments and the manner in which art was displayed and consumed.
The first of these was Growth and Form at the ICA, London in 1951, where he worked in a loose partnership with fellow ex-Slade alumnus Nigel Henderson. Henderson had given Hamilton a copy of D'arcy Wentworth Thompson's colossal 1917 text 'On Growth and Form', and this inspired an exhibition that sought to highlight the links between scientific study of structure and form and the implications for artists and designers dealing with form and function.
The linking of artists and designers was crucial, not only in creating the speculative physical manifestation of the exhibition, but also in encouraging the erasure of the artificial division between fine art and commercial design that British intellectual, academic and institutional authorities had erected. Some progress has been made in this respect in the past 63 years, but contrived partition serves vested interests and any changes to the status quo continue to meet with resistance.

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