The Twentieth Century Society

Review: Eduardo Paolozzi

Judith Collins (Lund Humphries, 304pp, £45)

Reviewed by Muriel Wilson

This lavishly-designed book is appropriately weighty, like the artist it examines. Throughout his roller-coaster career, Eduardo Paolozzi was an almost inescapable presence and a transformatively fecund artist. From his time at the Edinburgh School of Art in the early 1940s, he was at the heart of the swirling currents of the avant-garde, beginning with two post-graduate years in post-war Paris with Bill Turnbull, meeting Picasso and the rest of them. By the early 1950s he was a seminal figure at the ICA, with his legendary epidiascope lecture using collages of US consumerism for the Independent Group. He argued alongside equally challenging figures such as Hamilton, Banham, Alloway and the Smithsons, and his team’s contribution to the exhibition This is Tomorrow (1956) drew popular attention second only to Robbie the Robot.

Eduardo knew everyone, working or arguing or lodging with many of them, experimenting constantly with an interchangeable range of of media and materials – collage, prints, books, film (Together, in 1956, with Michael Andrews), wallpaper and textiles with Nigel Henderson as Hammer Prints Ltd, sculpture for public and private commissions, much of it monumental in scale, mosaic murals, wood ceiling reliefs. Paolozzi was, in his day, an obvious candidate on shortlists for commissions, awards and honours, in Britain and overseas. Even the book’s assiduous biographical notes are exhausting as lists of his achievements roll past, his non-stop activity and restless energy pulsing on until sadly checked by a disabling stroke in 2000.

The book is densely written and chronologically well-ordered to cover the complexity of his work in each medium and it is impressively illustrated, often with lesser-known works. He is presented not simply as a Pop artist, or as an Autolycus figure, ‘a snapper-up of unconsidered trifles’, but as a restless explorer, taking every opportunity to investigate something or somewhere new in human, philosophical or scientific history, then transforming it magically into a fresh disguise. His achievements and ideas have been hugely influential over more than a half-century.