Eduardo Paolozzi was born in 1924, in Leith, near Edinburgh. His parents were Italian immigrants. In 1943, he enrolled at the College of Art in Edinburgh and, after one year, continued his studies at the St. Martin’s School of Art in London. He then transferred to the Slade School of Art, where he studied from 1945 to 1947. In the years following World War II, Paolozzi embarked on a search for new artistic directions beyond the academic canon and beyond established, modern concepts of sculpture. After settling in Paris, contacts with fellow artists most of whom were influenced by surrealism, proved decisive for his future work. Of special importance was his intense engagement with the techniques of defamiliarizing composition, especially of the collage. Mary Reynolds introduced Paolozzi to these techniques in the works of Marcel Duchamps, but also, in their surrealist characteristics, in the works of Max Ernst. Most probably, his first collages which he mostly composed from American advertising magazines, were inspired by his interest in the complex combination of real, found elements and of elements that had been worked on. Among his treasure troves were the magazines »Esquire, ›Popular Mechanics, ‹Life, ›Lock, ›Amazing Science Fiction, ‹Galaxy,‹ and ›Cover Girls.‹ Only with his move to Paris where US-American troops were stationed, was he able to access this archive of pictures whose mass impact and political dimensions he focused on. Already his early collages demonstrated a special interest in the montage of technical details presented in advertisement, for example, in technical drawings, but also in idealizing portraits and full-body representations in cosmetics and fashion magazines (Selbstporträt, 1947; Election 1923, 1947).
Paolozzi was one of the co-founders of the ›Independent Group,‹ formed in 1952. Among its further founding members were architects James Stirling and Alison and Peter Smithson, artist Richard Hamilton, and art historian Reyner Banham. One of its locales was the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) in London. The group discussed the expansion of art concepts to include contributions from the mass media, from trivial and popular culture. The members understood themselves primarily as theory oriented providers of ideas and impulses, less as initiators of exhibitions. In the context of this group, concepts emerged that were labeled ›Pop Art‹ a few years later.
Yet Paolozzi occupied a special position in the ›Independent Group.‹ He positioned himself as an organizer of exhibitions and, in 1952 showed his collages for the first time, choosing the title ›Bunk.‹ He used the same title for the portfolio presented in 1972. Following a specific staging strategy, he projected his works almost without commentary and in rapid succession on the walls of the exhibition room. Another exhibition, taking place in 1953 at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, was again organized by Paolozzi, together with photographer Nigel Henderson, with Alison and Peter Smithson. Following a similar strategy and carrying the title ›The Parallel of Life and Art,‹ it again challenged the associative powers of the viewer. Through the act of viewing, various motifs of trivial everyday life are interconnected as to their form and content. With absurd combinations, new interpretive contexts are suggested.
In the years to follow, Paolozzi consistently applied these notions of artistic work also to the making of sculptures. He used things found as well as western civilization’s technological trash, grounded in the cultural present. With Head (1953), a first figural sculpture emerged whose formal equivalent might be found objects. Yet it is still to be considered a bust that was specifically shaped and worked on. It represents a defamiliarized as well as a poetic work, in a way taking up the technoid and body-like formal language of the early collages. Until the end of the 1950s, Paolozzi engaged in shaping plump robot heads and human machines. Their reduced and standardized facial expression – together with destroyed left-overs of industrial waste – caused uncanny associations with human bodies (St. Sebastian I, 1957; 9XSR, 1958/59). In 1952 and 1960, Paolozzi participated in the Venice Biennale, and from 1959 to 1977 his work was shown at the Documenta 2, 3, 4, and 6. Solo exhibitions followed, for example, at the Museum of Modern Art, New York (1964) and at the Tate Gallery, London (1971).
With the beginning of the 1960s, Paolozzi started to mainly use prefabricated geometrical aluminium and brass casts for his sculptures. Reliefs and sculptures now emerged in smoothed abstraction (Diana as an Engine I, 1963 — 66; Crash, 1964; Osaka Steel, 1969). Finally, he turned towards the realm of applied art, using his brass-colored wood reliefs to design his own collection of samples from small, shaped pieces (Holzrelief für Cleish Castle (Wood Relief for Cleish Castle), 1972;Rhino, 1980). Providing the London underground station Tottenham Road with a multi-colored, large-format mosaic (1984), Paolozzi presented this technical vocabulary in public space. Further public projects are his cast iron sculpture Piscator, located at Euston Square in London, and the Rheingartenskulptur in Cologne (1986). One of his most well-known works is probably Master of the Universe (1989), a sculpture showing Newton according to a drawing by William Blake. During that time, Paolozzi’s work was also shown at numerous solo exhibitions, for example, at the Lenbachhaus, Munich (1984), at the Museum Ludwig, Cologne (1985), and at the Royal Academy of Arts, London (1986).
Aside from his sculptural work, Paolozzi’s œuvre also includes a comprehensive collection of graphic art and of films. From 1949 to 1955, Paolozzi taught textile design at the Central School of Arts and Crafts, London, and from 195 to 1960, he taught at the St. Martin’s School of Art. He also lectured at German institutions, for example, starting in 1977, at the University of Applied Sciences in Cologne and at the Akademie der Bildenden Künste in Munich where he taught until he retired in 1989.
Eduardo Paolozzi died in April 2005, in London.
Paolozzi: Ausst.-Kat. National Galleries of Scotland, hg. v. F. Pearson, Edinburgh 1999
Paolozzi – Portraits: Ausst.-Kat. National Portrait Gallery, London 1988
Eduardo Paolozzi – Underground: Ausst.-Kat. Royal Academie of Arts London, hg. v. R. Cork, London 1986
Konnertz, Winfried: Eduardo Paolozzi, Köln 1984