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"You watch Apollo taking off on a TV in a bar in San Francisco then go round the corner to have your shoes shined by a topless shoe-shine girl." - Paolozzi, 1971.

Eduardo Paolozzi is one of the greatest Scottish artists of the 20th century. His work is heavily influenced by Dada and surrealism but he was also one of the pioneers of Pop Art in Britain. Paolozzi's main theme is the interrelationship between humans and technology, which relates to an interest in the images of popular culture and popular representations of science, ideas which he explores in sculpture, collage and printmaking.

Biography

Eduardo Luigi Paolozzi was born to Italian parents in Crown Place, Leith, Scotland on March 7, 1924. His family ran a shop selling ice cream and confectionery at 10 Albert Street near the top of Edinburgh's Leith Walk. He attended Leith Walk School and Holy Cross Academy, but the young Paolozzi spent much of his youth in the family shop, where he would collect the brightly-coloured images on cigarette cards.

However, the 1930s were the era of Mussolini in Italy and the growing threat of war in Europe. Paolozzi spent many of his summers in the 1930s at fascist youth camps in Italy. When World War II broke out, the family shop was one of many Italian businesses to be attacked by crowds. More seriously, all the male members of his family were interned; the 16 year old Paolozzi found himself imprisoned in Edinburgh's Saughton Prison for 3 months before being released back to his family sweetshop. His father Alfonso Paolozzi and grandfather Pietro Rossi were not so lucky: they were sent to Canada on an internment ship, the Arandora Star, which was torpedoed and sank, drowning them both.

Paolozzi studied briefly at the Edinburgh College of Art in 1943 before being conscripted. Whilst in the army, he was able to talk to other enlisted artists, and he read The Foundations of Modern Art by Amédée Ozenfant, which was to have a profound influence on him. He only served for a few months before he was discharged as being psychologically unfit.

Although he entertained thoughts of a career as an engineer, he started studying at the Slade School of Art in London in 1944, before eventually dropping out and moving to Paris in 1947. There he associated with other British artists and made contact with important figures from European modern art including Fernand Leger, Constantin Brancusi, Alberto Giacometti, Jean Arp and Tristan Tzara. However, lack of money soon brought him back to London.

Following his return to Britain, Paolozzi began to work seriously as an artist and lecturer; his first academic post was teaching textile design at the Central School of Art, London from 1947-1950. His first major commission was a fountain for the Festival of Britain in 1951. In the early 1950s, he became involved with the Independent Group of artists in London, and in 1952 he gave an important lecture called Bunk! in which he displayed pop culture images he had been collecting since 1947; this is widely reckoned to mark the beginning of Pop Art in Britain.

Since then, he has taught at St. Martin's School of Art (1955-58); Staatliche Hochschule für Bildende Künste, Hamburg (1960-62) where his pupils included "fifth Beatle" Stuart Sutcliffe; University of California, Berkeley; lecturer in ceramics at the Royal College of Art, London; Fachhochschule, Cologne; and professor of sculpture at the Akademie der Bildenden K¨nste, Munich, 1981-1991.

In the 1970s he benefited from the friendship and patronage of the art collector Gabrielle Keiller, and he advised her on building up her collection of surrealist art. In 1979 he became a member of the Royal Academy in London; in 1986 he was made Her Majesty's Sculptor-in-Ordinary in Scotland, and he was knighted in 1989. He currently lives in London. Unfortunately, he has suffered from ill health in his later years, and since 2000 he has been confined to a wheelchair and is almost unable to speak.

Paolozzi married Freda Elliott in 1951, and they had three daughters before divorcing in 1985.

His art

Paolozzi's work stands at a junction between surrealism and Pop Art. Although the two may not superficially have much in common, his interest in popular culture and the dreams and nightmares it represents ties the apparent superficiality of pop with the psychologism and scientific pretensions of surreal art. By producing works which yoke the human to the mechanical, and juxtapose the utopian images of advertising with the more brutal realities of life he often explores a similar territory to that of his friend J.G. Ballard.

His early work was mostly in the form of collages, an artistic technique commonly used by dadaist, surrealist and cubist artists in the early twentieth century, and which typically involved collecting images from books and magazines, ranging from drawings of classical antiquities to technical manuals. His most important work in this idiom was the collection Bunk! which takes its name from an advertisement for Charles Atlas's body-building regimen and mixes the wondrous fantasies of post-war technology with imagery from sensationalist pulp fiction.

Later he would develop this material as one of the pioneers of screenprinting, extending his subject matter in works such as As Is When, a series of prints based on the life and ideas of Ludwig Wittgenstein, who during World War II was imprisoned at Monte Cassino near the Paolozzis' Italian home. In a similar vein he made a series of prints about Alan Turing which avoided photographic or biographical reference to Turing in favour of mathematical themes.

Since the 1970s he has also been known as a sculptor, typically working in bronze and often on a monumental scale - the steel statue Vulcan at the Dean Gallery, Edinburgh is seven metres high. His sculpture is in a way more conventional, focusing on the figurative. However, he entwines the human with the technological, and his people often seem to be fused with machine, with rods sticking out or wheels beneath them. While much of his graphic work has the characteristic (and usually deliberate) blandness of Pop Art, his sculptures can be possessed with a powerful vitality: his figures loom forward at the viewer pushing with massive atavistic energy.

He has produced heads and busts of a large number of famous people including Richard Rodgers, Count Basie, and Yukio Mishima; tyically these appear to have been taken apart, filled with jagged metal, and reassembled again. His most characteristic head, Mr Cruikshank (1950), is a reproduction of a tailor's dummy. Other of his sculptures are less representational, and he has often used found objects and junk as part of compositions, imprinting the texture from rubbish and machine parts and incorporating it onto larger works.

Since the 1980s he has taken many commissions for public works of art; these include:

His statue of Isaac Newton at the British Library is particularly interesting, taking an image from William Blake of Newton stooped over his mathematical works in ignorance of the wonders of creation, and reproducing Newton to heroic scale, four metres high.

Dean Gallery and posterity

In 1994 Paolozzi offered a significant body of work to the Scottish National Galleries. In order to display it properly, in 1999 the art administration opened a new gallery across the road from Edinburgh's Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. The works were housed in the former Dean Orphan Hospital, designed by Thomas Hamilton in the 1830s, and converted to its present application by Terry Farrell and Partners.

The permanent collection of the Dean Gallery includes a reproduction of Paolozzi's studio workspace. This room is an amazing treasure-trove, containing a vast number of plaster heads and other body parts, numerous ideas for sculptures and pictures, and stuck to the wall somewhere above it the artist's bed. The gallery also contains a number of Paolozzi's other works, such as the huge sculpture Vulcan, as well as exhibitions and artworks not by Paolozzi: it houses significant collections of Dada and surrealist art and books, from the collections of Sir Roland Penrose and Paolozzi's friend Gabrielle Keiller.

This makes Paolozzi the only artist to have his or her own gallery in Edinburgh, and surely serves as a claim to posterity by Paolozzi as well as a desire by the city to proclaim itself home to artistic greatness. Whether Paolozzi deserves this commemoration is an open question: he clearly has historical imporance for British art, but his extraordinary prolificness sometimes seems to mask an essentially limited set of principles. Although his screenprints and collages are visually interesting, they never have the iconic quality of Andy Warhol or David Hockney, and feel more like a collection of tidbits than a series of dominating or arresting images. Too often, they are closer to engineering drawings than to art.

His sculptures may occasionally seem a set of variations on Raoul Hausmann's The Spirit of Our Time - Mechanical Head (1919), but his best work progresses beyond the Dada and surreal interest in the purely inhuman aspect of technology to produce something brutally mechanical yet imbued with human spirit (another of his friends and influences was Francis Bacon). Capturing in three dimensions a sensuality which his works on paper merely parody, on a large scale he is one of the few artists generally able to produce large-scale public works that remain more than just street furniture, and in a gallery his sculptures demand the viewer's engagement. If the Dean Gallery isn't to be turned over to someone else in 20 years time, his reputation will most likely endure as one of those artists who is able to take the time-worn sculptural subject of the human form and make it something contemporary, challenging and even awe-inspiring.


This was based largely on the retrospective Paolozzi at 80 at the Dean Gallery, Edinburgh in summer 2004. Additional information comes from:

  • Michael Spens. "Eduardo Paolozzi - Writings and Interviews". Studio International. http://www.studio-international.co.uk/reports/PaolozziE_10_5.htm
  • "Famous Scots". Rampant Scotland. http://www.rampantscotland.com/famous/blfampaolozzi.htm
  • Frank Whitford. "Speculative Illustrations: Eduardo Paolozzi in conversation with J. G. Ballard and Frank Whitford" Studio International. 1971, Volume 182, 136-143. http://www.studio-international.co.uk/archive/Paolozzi-1971-182.htm
  • Iain Gale. "Making of a Goliath". Scotland on Sunday. May 9, 2004. http://news.scotsman.com/index.cfm?id=527372004
  • Tim Cornwell. "Homage to a Modern Artist". The Scotsman. May 22, 2004. http://news.scotsman.com/index.cfm?id=571762004

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