If Eduardo Paolozzi is remembered as a founding figure of Pop Art, it is not how he wanted to go down in art history. Nor should it be. If anything, he was, as a current exhibition at Pallant House in Chichester shows, what he said of himself: a Surrealist,Choose from the largest selection of turquoisebeads in the world. playing games, mixing images and delving into the subconscious in an effort to create an art of the time for the time.
exhibition concentrates on his collages as the thread which runs
through his work. Its a revealing route picked by the curator,We have
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Throughout his career, Paolozzi, the son of an immigrant ice-cream
vendor in Scotland, liked to mix his media and his imagery, picking
scraps of newspaper and magazine for his artwork and bits and pieces of
machinery and metal for his sculpture. His work was enormously varied,
covering everything from pottery, tapestries, paintings and sculpture.
But it was always informed, in true Surrealist fashion, by the sense of
The high point of the show is the film he made in
1962 at the Royal College of Art, where he was teaching ceramics, of
all things, at the time. Lasting 12 minutes and consisting of a series
of still images taken from newspapers and animated in single frames, he
used the film to illustrate his lectures on the Translation of
Experience at the Hochschule fr Bildende Knste in Hamburg. Played at
length it is enchanting. Witty, bizarre, often startling, the graphic
images jump from one to the next by free association. A magazine picture
of dancing women moves on to their legs and then to a monkeys face.
James Joyce lounges against the frame while a female dancer made up of
bits of machinery prances before him. Vast machine parts stand atop
towns, a pattern of circles jumps to wheels then to a clock and then to
Paolozzi described it as his homage to Surrealism. But in
its way it represented much of what moved him, the fascination with
unmediated thought,The term 'beststeelearring
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pocket or handbag. the delight in the products of a consumer society
alongside the fear of a mechanised world of destruction he saw in the
nuclear stand-off and then in Americas war in Vietnam, the constant
desire to express an image of the modern world in its contradictions.
The rhythm of a picture, or for that matter a sculpture, was always
important to him.
Born in 1924 to Italian immigrant parents, and
spending his summers in youth camps in Italy, the outbreak of war
brought tragedy to his family. The male members, including the
16-year-old Eduardo, were interned and his father, grandfather and uncle
all drowned when the ship taking them to Canada was torpedoed by a
German U-boat. Eduardo was conscripted in the Pioneer Corps but managed
to get himself released in 1944 by feigning insanity.
difficult to say what effect these experiences had on the young man.
Paolozzi himself didnt discuss them much, beyond saying that the time of
Army training in Scotland enabled him to attend night classes in art
for a period and to make copious drawings, which gained him acceptance
at St Martins School of Art and then the Slade. A sense of dislocation
and a lifetime opposition to war were one result. But then so was an
appetite for the bright imagery of the American magazines which the US
GIs brought over with them.
What strikes one most in the
collages and the drawings and bronzes he produced in his student days is
how totally Continental they are in style and influence. Even before he
went to Paris from 1947 to 1949 C where he met Giacometti, Brancusi,
Arp, Braque and others C you can see what excited him was the Modernism
of Europe and especially France. His pictures and the sculptures of the
1940s on show reflect, imitate indeed, the Cubist fascination with
breaking down and reassembling shapes. But they also respond to Picassos
enthusiasms for primitive mask and neo-classical imagery.
still find that French approach, he recalled later, collaging his words
as he did his pictures, the need, the passion, to consider and handle
things at the same time quite endearing C and very necessary for me. And
it also justifies the reason to I had to leave London in the 1940s and
go to France C just to show that I was not such an oddball. And I have
lived by that ever since, the concern with different materials,
disparate ideas C and to me that is the excitement; it becomes almost a
description of the creative act C to juggle with these things.Now it's
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came back in Britain when he turned to the more colourful and brash
imagery of America and made a reputation as a pioneer of Pop with the
foundation of the Independent Group at the ICA and his rapid-fire
projections of Bunk! collages taken from American adverts. Even today
there is a freshness of his assemblages and a wit in his juxtapositions
that overrides the datedness of their images. Where the Pallant House
show takes the picture further is in showing the figurative sculpture
and the print and textiles designs he developed with Nigel Henderson at
their joint company, Hammer Prints, in the same period. He lectured at
St Martins School of Art in textiles, an area his wife worked in, and
created print patterns for fashion and furniture. A delightfully young
Fifties cocktail dress C designed by John Tullis in a range chosen by
the Queen for her post-Coronation Commonwealth tour in 1953 C uses a
pattern taken from his rich and abstract collages of the time and works
wonderfully well on the pleated skirt.
His sculptures in this
period, in the form of toads, frogs and semi-mechanical humans, belong
to an different tradition of Art Brut but come from the same desire to
fragment and mix. Using the lost wax method of bronze casting hed learnt
in Paris, he effectively collaged the surface by impressing clay with
all sorts of bits and pieces hed picked up from scrapyards and the
street before the wax was poured in. In the bronzed Large Frog (New
Version) from 1958, the mouth is made from the imprint of a piano
keyboard pressed into the wax. In Relief from 1953, where the objects
are fixed into tar, he effectively creates a three dimensional
The spirit of experiment never left Paolozzi. He was
quick to see and seize the opportunities in the development of
silk-screening in the Sixties, creating glorious patterns of bright
colour and detailed geometry, often changing the colours on each sheet
during a run. Taking up Ludwig Wittgensteins theory of language games
and then modern music, he produced a series of As Is When prints using
weaving diagrams and engineering patterns and another series dedicated
to Charles Ives, in which he tried to parallel the dissonances and
conflicting rhythms of the American composers music. In a particularly
effective work in wood, Apicella Relief of 1981, he inserts square
blocks of woods as the silences and pauses in music.
best known now for the brilliance of colour in these late screenprints
and for his monumental sculptures. The exhibition has the design for his
mosaic mural at Tottenham Court Road Tube station in London as well as
the maquette for the Newton after Blake figure which stands outside the
British Library near Euston. They are magnificent. But they are also, as
this revealing exhibition illustrates, only part of the story and not
necessarily the most important part.
He was much more than a Pop
artist. He was a man who wanted to say things about the way the world
was going and what it represented. Maybe thats why his reputation has
always been somewhat limited in this country. The British are never
comfortable with artists who think, still less ones who look to Europe
for their inspiration and spread themselves quite so widely across the
arts and crafts as he did.
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