Rachel Stratton

Courtauld Institute of Art

Project Title: The Artist as Mirror of his Time”: Art, Mass Culture and the ‘Dialogic’ Relationship between Surrealism in Britain and the Independent Group.

Supervised by Gavin Parkinson.

The Independent Group – an interdisciplinary group of artists, architects and critics – met between 1952 and 1956 at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London. Disconcerted by the hierarchical approach to culture propounded by modernism at the I.C.A., the Group’s critical interventions sought a complete re-evaluation of culture, in light of rising American consumerism, the professionalisation of marketing, and developments in science and technology. Their self-perpetuated title as ‘Fathers of Pop’ remains the predominant view of the Group. Whilst its collective presence at the I.C.A. is well documented, the Group’s profound impact on its members remains under-researched.

Expanding on recent scholarship, this thesis explores the interdisciplinary approach of the Independent Group as part of an on-going dialogue with pre and post-war Surrealism. In doing so, it frames the Independent Group within a diachronic narrative of British art’s engagement with mass culture, and a synchronic narrative of prevalent epistemic themes occurring in Europe in the post-war period. The thesis looks at how members of the Group engaged with collage, exhibition design and photography–in relation to precedents in British Surrealism and highlights the role played by E.L.T. Mesens, leader of the English Surrealist group, in establishing these practices. It also extrapolates on the impact of key theories explored by the Group, contextualising them within wider usage by the Surrealists in post-war Paris and bringing into focus the socio-political and economic contexts for their usage.

Research interests

  • 20th Century British art
  • Modern and Contemporary art
  • The Independent Group
  • Surrealism
  • Art and Science

Other academic activity

  • Director and Lead Curator of AXNS, a curatorial collective specialising in crossovers in art and science.
  • CHASE Student Advisory Group representative for the Courtauld Institute.