Paintings On The Wall - Eduardo Paolozzi (1924- 2005)
Above: Paolozzi's work at Tottenham Court Road Underground Station
Eduardo Paolozzi (1924- 2005)
Read Paul’s personal ‘PS from PM’ and learn more about the works of Eduardo Paolozzi in the latest ‘Paintings On The Wall’. However familiar you are with the vast works of Eduardo Paolozzi, chances are that you’ll have seen the artist’s works, pausing to admire them –or maybe, if you’re honest, rushing past them –on your way to work in London, or when viewing the sites.
You’ll find his brightly coloured glass mosaics along the London Underground’s Northern and Central line platforms and walkways: interconnected shapes and figures capturing constant motion, the fast flow and colour of people making their way. Completed in 1986, these patterns took the vivid colours and motifs – the whirring cogs of industry, butterflies, heads – that Paolozzi had used in his art over the decades. Commuters become a mirror to the constantly evolving man-and-machine imagery; they pass swiftly through the patterns, from one colour combination to the next, as they throw out a rocket, a camera, a bird. It’s like a palace full of pop images.
So prevalent are Paolozzi’s mosaics on the Underground –they cover a vast 950 sq metres, salvaged in the post-Crossrail reconstruction –that Transport For London published a leaflet called The Eduardo Paolozzi Art Map.
Or maybe you’ve seen his sculptures. You can’t miss them in London –some, like the abstract head titled Piscator (1981), at Euston station, or his famous memorial to Isaac Newton in the courtyard of the British Library, are imposing London landmarks. And you can do a trail of the artist’s works around his home city of Edinburgh.
It’s only fitting that his works should find a home in the heart of everyday life, in places of movement, transportation and commerce. Paolozzi grew up in the busy, industrial port of Leith in Edinburgh, and you can see his resulting interest in industry, urbanisation, and the mass culture of daily life manifesting itself in his works.
But Paolozzi was far too prolific and inventive to stick to sculpture and mosaics alone. He was famous first for his collages (and later screenprints), which formed the base for almost everything that followed in his career, then his sculptures, but he also worked with screenprints, pottery, tapestries, textiles, fashion and paintings.
What do you do when you move house and you’re not keen on the wallpaper? Well, if you’re Paolozzi you have your new pad decorated with your own design, of course. (A few years later, in 1955, Paolozzi would launch his Hammer Prints business with close friend, photographer Nigel Henderson, with whom he taught at the Central School of Art, designing wallpaper, fabrics and ceramics to help fund his life as an artist). The Queen herself, who appointed Paolozzi her Sculptor in Ordinary for Scotland in 1989, wore a yellow dress fashioned from his Insects’ Wings fabric on a tour of the Commonwealth. He even designed plates for Wedgwood in the late Sixties.
He also crossed over into many of the 20th-century’s most significant art movements. If you were at a pub quiz and the questions turned to famous Pop artists, you’d expect to hear the names Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol. Not, perhaps, Paolozzi, although his collages were deemed the earliest examples of Pop Art and paved the way to a whole movement. But he was also a brutalist, making sculptures out of concrete –a material not typically used in fine art –and a surrealist, a cubist, a conceptualist…
Paolozzi was an experimental master of invention, an innovative artist of wide-reaching influence. And he had a distinct rebellious streak. To Paolozzi, artistic conventions –such as sticking to traditional materials and the notion of some artforms being more highbrow than others –were nonsense. He challenged them throughout his career, developing his practice by experimenting with materials, methods and ideas.
Yet, Paolozzi has always been curiously underrated. Perhaps it’s his continually evolving output across the styles and mediums that has flummoxed critics and detracted from his great influence; his artistic identity was impossible to pin down. His 1971 exhibition at the Tate was deemed a flop. Although Paolozzi took revenge with his exhibit Jeepers Creepers, a collective of plaster gnomes that he dubbed “the critics”.
From ice cream to war
Prevalent and prolific his works may be, if you’d asked Paolozzi the schoolboy what he would do when he grew up, you wouldn’t have got the answer “artist”. Inheriting the family ice-cream business from his Italian parents, Alfonso and Carmela, would have been more likely. They ran a confectionery, cigarettes and ice-cream parlour in Leith, just as Paolozzi’s maternal grandparents Pietro and Margherita Rossi had done after emigrating from Italy, and Paolozzi would help out in the shop until late on school nights.
It was a tough life. But one perk (other than ice cream on tap) was the free local cinema tickets the family were given in exchange for displaying film posters in the shop. And so, from the age of five, Paolozzi and his mother went to see the latest American films, igniting his fascination with the US and planting the first seeds of his artistic career. He started to scour the cinema’s annual photograph journal and cheap books of film stars for images that grabbed his attention. And when shop customers left behind magazines, match boxes and cigarette packet cards of Hollywood stars and aircraft, Paolozzi’s life-long love of collecting
cuttings and found items was born. Under his bed he kept a mahogany treasure trove of discarded objects. Long before his first training in art, the young Paolozzi was creating scrapbooks –the foundations for his soon-to-be-famous collages. He later said: "I like tomake use of everything. I can't bear to throw things away –a nice wine bottle, a nice box. Sometimes I feel like a wizard in Toytown, transforming a bunch of carrots into pomegranates."
From cardboard boxes he experimented with model-making, and he developed his eye for detail, observing how the shop windows had been carefully arranged and dressed with tantalising sundaes and crepe paper. And he drew for hours.
Unlimited ice cream, collecting things and creating. What wasn’t there to love? But it was to be a far less idyllic youth when the war got in the way. His father was an admirer of Mussolini (the family had a framed picture of him up in the back of the shop), every summer sending Eduardo to a fascist youth camp in Italy, and when Italy declared war in 1940 the male members of the family were rounded up and imprisoned as enemy aliens to be exiled to Canada. Sixteen-year-old Eduardo was jailed for three months. Tragically, his father was killed, along with his uncle and grandfather, when their ship to Canada was sunk by a German U-boat. Afterwards Paolozzi continued to help his mother make and sell ice cream.
His first formal art training began in 1943, after a friend suggested he enrol in evening classes at Edinburgh College of Art where he learnt lettering and started to dream of becoming a commercial artist. But that was scuppered by a conscription to the army. While serving, at the public library he discovered Amedee Ozenfant’s “Foundations of Modern Art” which opened his eyes to the open possibilities of surrealism and left him itching to get back to art as soon as possible. “It absolutely amazed and gave me a lot of hope that they had included, apartfrom African art, battleships and the wheels of motor cars, and it also had vulgar art, and anonymous photographs, and that opened the big door for me, that my thinking process wasn't too much out of step.”
What do you do when you want to escape the army? Feign madness. Released from service and free to seek out his dream, he signed up to Saint Martin's School of Art for a brief period in 1944, and then the Ruskin School, before transferring to the Slade School of Fine Art at University College London (temporarily evacuated to Oxford) until 1947. There he drew and drew: everything from Old Master paintings to tribal art. While his peers were looking to the Post-Impressionist paintings of Augustus John, Paolozzi had his own ideas. Drawn to tribal artwork, he would go to the anthropological Pitt Rivers museum, alone, and sketch. Unimpressed by the art encouraged at Ruskin and Slade, he lamented how “they had turnedart into an activity which was just drawing a naked woman from London in a crowded room”. He preferred to explore the Pitt Rivers’“mixture of warships and African sculpture, and Picasso”.
The Slade returned to London, and it was there that he properly encountered the work of Pablo Picasso. To his tutors’ disapproval, instead of “run-of-the-mill” Augustus John, Picasso became his “hero” and a major influence.
The collages of his student days and his earliest sculptures were inspired by the cubists’ method of dismantling an object into angular shapes and rearranging them. But Paolozzi invented a new way of making his unconventional sculptures: pouring plaster into clay moulds and hand-carving them into shape. He called them “slightly Picassoid”. He would also incorporate Picasso’s love of neoclassical imagery. One early collage referencing the neoclassical tendencies of his hero was Hi-Hohe, created when he was only 22. The inclusion of a portrait of the actress Jean Harlow recalled Paolozzi’s love of cinema that stemmed from childhood. But next to her image is a photograph of a classical sculpture with a fragment of an image of machinery for a head. In this juxtaposition, a past icon of cinema and emblem of glamour looks up at the antiquarian piece of history topped with ominous futuristic machinery looming over her: here the past and future are united, but not comfortably.
Barely into his 20s, Paolozzi had already begun to explore the theme that would pop up throughout his work: the unnerving effect of machinery on mankind. It’s no surprise, then, that one of his favourite films was Fritz Lang’s Metropolis in which robots take power, and he also became friends with the author JG Ballard for his kindred exploration of technology’s impact on society.
A rebel in art who’s hard to pin down: Paris, collages, BUNK! and founding Pop Art
Paolozzi’s fascination with Picasso and cubism reaped rewards. His first solo show, in 1947 at London's Mayor Gallery, sold all of his brutalist sculptures and cubist-inspired collages exhibited, and he used the proceeds to travel to Paris later that year, in pursuit of art and the surrealists.
“I had to leave London in the 1940s and go to France – just to show that I was not such an oddball”, he later said.“And I have lived by that ever since, the concern with different materials, disparate ideas – and to me that is the excitement; it becomes almost a description of the creative act – to juggle with these things.”
He went armed with contacts. And during the two years that he lived in Paris, from 1947 to 1949, he succeeded in learning about Dada and surrealism from the artists he met, including Tristan Tzara, sculptor Alberto Giacometti and Constantin Brancusi; the bronze sculptures he made there recalled Giacometti.
In Paris he stockpiled material for collages. American ex-servicemen who were studying there through a US government initiative gave him glossy magazines such as Time and Life, from which he would cut out pictures. His junk-collecting was well known by their wives, who passed on unwanted clocks, combs, and cheap kitchenware. Anything went. Or did it? “I’m very selective about the kind of junk,” he stated when quizzed on Desert Island Discs in1990. Inspired by Dada photomontage, he then put this material amassed from different sources together to create something new and cohesive. These were embraced as the earliest Pop Art examples. "I suppose I am interested, above all, in investigating the golden ability ofthe artist to achieve a metamorphosis of quite ordinary things into something wonderful and extraordinary,” he said.
His collages became ever more intricate and laden with messages. Take, for example, Meet the People, a collage on card. Again, there’s the glamorous movie starlet, and emblems of American consumerism: the universal Disney figure Minnie Mouse, the fresh fruit salad symbolising affluence, the orange juice so associated with sunny Florida, and advertising logos. Even a tin of tuna becomes alluring in this artwork. American magazines, he said, represented a catalogue “of an exotic society, bountiful and generous”. The optimistic world of American glamour, consumerism and its shiny advertising was a far cry from the bleak post-war years in Europe that Paolozzi had just left behind. Tired of British old-fashioned, snobbish ideas of art, Paolozzi was attracted to America’s dynamism.
“One was trying to make a kind of parallel and holding up a mirror to what one might have felt about certainly American cinema, and had a kind of dynamism which the English could never capture.”
Meet The People (1948)
Meet the People was part of a series of collages entitled Bunk! which would become a pivotal moment in art history. In 1952, Paolozzi gave a groundbreaking illustrated lecture at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London to the Independent Group’s young avant-garde artists (including Henderson, William Turnbull and Richard Hamilton) interested in technology’s effect on mass culture. “Bunk!” harked back to a comment by Henry Ford, that “History is more or less bunk.... We want to live in the present”, and the series was indeed all about representing the moment.
Paolozzi used a projector to display collages assembled from magazine, newspaper and advertorial clippings, unpicking their artistic value. And Pop Art was born. As ever, Paolozzi was way ahead of the curve: Pop Art wouldn’t reach its pinnacle until a decade later.
You could make a bet that whenever an artist was frowned upon by his peers and teachers –Picasso for example –Paolozzi would find beauty in them; where an artist was in favour with the masses, he would likely dismiss them. Paolozzi was never one to follow the crowd. So when the influence of sculptor Henry Moore was prevalent, and contemporary art was in thrall to his smooth forms, you guessed it: Paolozzi was not. And he made it clear in his sculptures. Paolozzi’s allegiance was to Picasso, and surrealism, which he hailed as a way to revert to “what excited you in childhood, like games, secret writings; there was a great dealin Surrealism where you were able to trigger all these childhood things, which in conventional art education you were taught to forget.”
On his return from Paris to the UK in 1949, Paolozzi had begun teaching at the Central
School of Art and Design with Henderson. He became friends with other high-profile painters: Lucian Freud, William Turnbull, and Francis Bacon whose risk-taking appealed to his adventurous spirit. And his sculptures of the mid-late 1950s had little in common with Henry Moore, the post-war period’s most popular and globally celebrated sculptor. Instead, he turned to the jarring angles of cubists such as Georges Braque and Fernand Léger, and focused on distressed figures.
He cast a series of small bronze sculptures, the titles of which were Wounded Animal, Damaged Warrior, and –you can see the theme here –Shattered Head, which does exactly what its title suggests. It’s a grotesque figure that looks as though its head and shoulders have been shattered only to have been put back together with binds, with various pieces of the puzzle missing. It was in fact created as a whole, using the “lost wax method” employed by surrealist artists such as Salvador Dali. Holes were carved into sheets of casting wax, and metal items imprinted to create the effect of damage, before being cast in bronze (we’ll return to this later). The result? The reconstructed form suggests the rebuilding of a Europe ravaged by years of conflict; perhaps it’s an expression of a youth in which the artist experienced the tragedies and destruction of war.
Shattered Head (1956)
It was also a part of Paolozzi’s continuous dialogue about man and the machine, as were the sculptures of damaged figures that followed. With its large head and body on legs, the
abstracted figure St Sebastian reflects the implications of post-war mechanisation on man. St Sebastian was a Christian martyr who was tied to a stake and shot with arrows; although it was the idea of the “irony of man and hero –the hollow god” that most piqued his interest.
St Sebastian III (1958-9)
Human form is recurrent in Paolozzi’s works, as are the reconstructed heads which first occurred in his series of collages using shreds from Time magazine covers, such as Templer of Malaya, assembled from strips of the faces of significant figures.
Templer of Malaya (1953)
Why make a brilliantly conceived work just once when you can make it... five, or even... 150 times? For the inventive Paolozzi, the creation process was key. He would revise and revise his creation, putting a different spin on each revision. St Sebastian was the subject of five bronze sculptures and you can see their progression. In each, the familiar human form becomes increasingly architectural so that by the time we reach the final version, St Sebastian III, he has building-like compartments for a body, with a surface that’s heavily marked by scratches and impressions of machinery. Such sculptures display Paolozzi’s alignment with post-war art that abandoned conventional methods and embraced the brutalist way of using less traditional materials. He used clay as well as wax, and often the inventive Paolozzi would add found bits of machinery –nuts, washers, bolts, and all manner of scrapyard junk, toys and piano fragments –pressing them into the wax sheets, before casting them into bronze figures. It was a development of his approach to collage; collecting scrap items and transforming them into art. "I use a collage technique in a plastic medium,"he said.
Again, the holes in the body’s structure suggest destruction. Is this the effect machinery has on man? Looking at Paolozzi’s damaged figures, you can’t avoid reflecting on post-war devastation, but Paolozzi was keen to explain in lectures he gave that his concept wasn’t about creating works bemoaning the state of man and machine to provoke angst. “I was moreinterested in destroying certain formal ambiguities by using ready-mades of a mechanical nature than creating some kind of philosophy about machines, at the same time collaging words out of magazines.”
His concept was to create a new kind of art paralleling life, a modern contextualisation of man and machine.
A new kind of sculpture: Working with aluminium
As Pop Art took off in the early 1960s, so did Paolozzi’s sculptures evolve from rough, brutalist-style to clean-cut lines. He pioneered new, experimental methods of sculpture-creation, joining forces with engineering firms to create works –with new materials such as aluminium–that were technically different: simple, geometrical forms with smoother surfaces. Markoni Capital, made from gunmetal, brass and aluminium, marked this shift to a new way of working. And, like his abstracted bronze figures of the Fifties, or Solo, conjures up a robot or machine-man. It’s a mechanomorph in which architecture and humanity collide as chimney-like structures stand in place of a head, again, exploring the effect of urbanisation on mankind and art.
Markoni Capital (1962)
By the mid-Sixties, aluminium was his regular material. But he was to create even shinier works. Ettso (1967), made from chrome-plated stainless steel in Tokyo, was his largest ever polished creation, so big a child could walk through its tunnel.
As Paolozzi’s popularity diminished, these sculptures weren’t regularly exhibited, so the artist spent time as a visiting professor at the University of California in Berkeley and teaching ceramics in the Royal College of Art in London. While there, he wrote: “Finding thecourage to be truly creative...realising that endless hours of just “making” leads inevitably to some form of mediocrity, finding the discipline to go to the Tate and enjoy Blake or stare at cubism... that is what we must instill.” Mediocrity was something Paolozzi couldn’t bear.
At the same time, Paolozzi made screenprints which, although taking their collagist approach from surrealism, would have a major impact on Pop Art.
Paolozzi became disillusioned with the American Dream. Now that Pop Art was in vogue and selling for vast sums, he regarded it as superficial and didn’t want to be a part of it. He preferred to label his work an “extension of radical Surrealism”. “It’s easier for me to identifywith that tradition than to allow myself to be described by some term, invented by others, called “Pop”, which immediately means that you dive into a barrel of Coca-Cola bottles.”
And in 1971 he created a pastiche/take-down of the genre that he’d helped to found. He threw all its recognisable tropes at Pop Art Redefined: the Disney-style elephant, Roy Lichtenstein’s trademark dots, Andy Warhol’s famous soup can and Jasper Johns’ flags.
Pop Art Redefined (1971)
Pop artist Robert Indiana would hail the artform “the American Dream, optimistic, generous and naïve”. But, for Paolozzi, there were more meanings to be discovered within his complex prints. The ambiguity of Paolozzi’s works was intentional; he saw it as “multi-evocative”, allowing the viewer to interpret messages. His works were united in their contradictions, created by striking juxtapositions.
Cast your eye over his 1971 screenprint BASH and you might see a colourful Pop Art print, comprising several disjointed images thrown together. But it’s full of metaphors. Look closely for Paolozzi’s messages, and you see an anatomical human heart, President Kennedy, the infamous image of Marilyn Monroe with her skirt lifting in 1955’s The Seven Year Itch, a soldier in flight, a rocket…
“If I’m called a Pop artist then people expect to see soup tins. Pop to me means something vulgar - the world of cheap stores,” he explained, describing BASH as“a collection of metaphors which add up to the 20th-century experience… All the things on that piece of paper have been moved around and anchored into position. They’re a scattering of what you would see just sitting down to a television evening turning the knob from one channel to another. BASH is also kind of politically active. I’ve grown up in a bomb culture as a child and it rather looks as if one is going to spend the rest of one’s life opening newspapers and seeing the most terrible things. By making bombs, or metaphors of them, I want to show that I’m not an escapist. I don’t want people to look at my art to get away from the harried world.”
It’s similar in eye-catching vibrancy and surrealistic content to his 1970 screenprint Mr Peanut. As ever, one version wasn’t enough; Paolozzi created no less than 150 prints in different colourways. Great skill and effort was needed; the lithographic collaged elements of his prints were tricky to keep in position.
Mr Peanut (1970)
The glass mosaics of the Underground, created many years later, spring to mind. With his screenprints including Parrot, As Is When (1965), Paolozzi developed his love for vivid colour and abstract shapes, alongside his trademark compartmentalising lines and a surrealistic composition of seemingly haphazard cut-out objects (watch, peanuts, cockatoo, rocket, teacup, car, butterfly).
Recognising his heroes
His series of 12 screenprints As Is When pays homage to the Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, using his texts alongside collaged images. Entire books have been written about the relationship between the two.
Just as he’d paid homage to Wittgenstein, Paolozzi paid homage to others who he admired. Not just artists, but, as a serious foodie, the chefs and designers of London restaurants he frequented. Not many can claim to dine in fine restaurants for free, but restaurants welcomed his gifts of art.
Paolozzi shifted from industrial production towards the handcrafted. His largest wooden relief was for creative heroes he’d admired since his student days. Paolozzi discovered the work of poet WH Auden, and music by Auden’s friend, the composer Benjamin Britten, while at the Slade in 1946. He created On This Island ,named after Auden’s book of poems, which Britten wrote a song cycle to in 1937. It was created like a classical composition, to resemble chords.
On This Island (after Benjamin Britten) (1985)
Later, Paolozzi was commissioned by the University of Birmingham to create a work celebrating the centenary of their royal charter. By means of a vast bronze statue, he was able to pay tribute to another of his heroes: Michael Faraday (Faraday, 1999), a scientist who discovered electromagnetic induction.
He returned to fragmented heads in the early Nineties with a series including Large Mondrian Head (1994). Its assembled geometric pieces were inspired by Paolozzi examining a pixelated head on a computer screen. He called the Mondrian head “a successful amalgam ofsomething I’ve been striving for, which is African art, psychopathic art, geometric art, art which takes care of the machine and in addition to that, lubricated and bound together by Broadway boogie woogie, saying in other words that you cannot evade modernism; if you try and avoid modernism you’re dead.”
Large Mondrian Head (1994)
But the past will always be ingrained on a person – especially one who witnessed as much as Paolozzi. So it is fascinating that in his late work London to Paris he harks back to his childhood explicitly, the train made of wood and bronze representing the annual journeys made to Milan to see family. On the train’s wagon are various body parts and shapes, displaying again his intrigue with the relationship between man and the industrialised world of the 20th-century.
London To Paris (1999-2000)
It was one of his final works. In 2001 he would suffer a stroke that left him in a wheelchair. Some say it was his punishing work schedule and a life devoted to prolific artistic output that put a strain on his health. While creating his vast collection, he taught in many countries. During his tenure at the Munich Academy, it’s said that he would sleep on a camp bed in his messy studio because he was so engrossed in his work. Back at the Slade in Oxford, he had slept surrounded by artefacts in the Ashmolean Museum. A mocked up version of his studio at the Scottish Gallery of Modern Art showed a bunk bed built into his heaving shelves.
Paolozzi never stopped working: for years he created from dawn until late at night. So devoted to his work was he that he hunkered down in a rented studio in Chelsea, isolating himself from his life at the Essex cottage he shared with his wife, British textile designer Freda Elliot, and their three daughters. This didn’t go down too well; Elliot later filed for divorce.
But the world is richer for Paolozzi’s life-long dedication to artistic endeavour. We only have to wander city streets for the privilege of seeing Paolozzi’s many works commissioned for the public, witnessing a thirst for creation and artistic innovation that remained unparalleled over his 60-year career.
Red Rose Speedway gatefold artwork (1973)
PS from PM:
I first heard of Eduardo Paolozzi through Stuart Sutcliffe, our original bass player. In the 60s, I became more familiar with his work through my friend Robert Fraser’s gallery. In fact, I bought one of Eduardo’s sculptures which Robert had in his apartment and I’ve had it now since the 60s. Later, I asked Eduardo to contribute to the artwork for 'Red Rose Speedway' which he did brilliantly. I admired and bought one of his wooden collages and always felt that his influence on British art was perhaps a little underestimated. I once visited his Chelsea (London) studio and was impressed by his sense of humour, the twinkle in his eye and his generosity. I think his contribution to the British pop art scene (even though I don’t think he liked that term) was extremely important.