British sculptor, collagist, printmaker, film maker and writer. Born of Italian parents, he attended Edinburgh College of Art in 1943 with a view to becoming a commercial artist. After brief military service, in 1944 he attended St Martin’s School of Art in London, and from 1945 to 1947 he studied sculpture at the Slade School of Fine Art (then based in Oxford). While in Oxford he saw ethnographic sculpture at the Pitt Rivers Museum and also became friendly with William Turnbull and Nigel Henderson. The influence of art from non-Western cultures is evident in such early works as Fisherman and Wife (ink, wash and collage, 1946; London, Tate). In 1947 he had his first one-man show at The Mayor Gallery Ltd in London, and in the summer of that year he moved to Paris. He remained there until 1949, meeting artists such as Arp, Braque, Brancusi, Giacometti, Jean Hélion, Léger and Tristan Tzara. He was attracted to Surrealist art and ideas and was also impressed by the art brut of Dubuffet. In the late 1940s he made various sculptures inspired by Surrealism, such as Forms on a Bow (brass, 1949; London, Tate), which consists of biomorphic forms and reveals a knowledge of Giacometti’s work, and also produced a number of collages, such as Composizione par Parere (1948; artist’s col., see 1984–5 exh. cat., p. 98), which blend the incongruous juxtapositions of Surrealism with Paolozzi’s interest in images of modern machinery.
From 1949 to 1955 Paolozzi taught at the Central School of Art and Design in London. In 1951 he was commissioned to produce Fountain (open steel and concrete, destr.; see 1971 exh. cat., p. 13) for the Festival of Britain in London. At a meeting of the Independent group at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) in London in 1952 he gave his lecture ‘Bunk’, in which he presented a selection of slide images taken from science fiction and other popular magazines. This serious look at popular culture heralded the Pop Art aesthetic. The following year, with Henderson, Ronald Jenkins and Alison and Peter Smithson, he organized the Parallel of Life and Art exhibition at the ICA, which included a variety of images from scientific illustration and science fiction, together with photographs of works by Klee, Dubuffet and others. In 1956 he collaborated on a section of the This is Tomorrow exhibition at the Whitechapel Art Gallery in London. In his own work of the 1950s he concentrated on the human form, representing it as brutalized and anguished. Works such as Man’s Head (ink, gouache and pencil, 1952–3; London, Tate) have the raw expressiveness found in Dubuffet’s work. In his sculptures he incorporated impressions made by machine and other metal parts into the wax maquettes, which were then cast in bronze.
Having experimented with screenprinting in the early 1950s, in the 1960s Paolozzi produced a number of works by this technique, often in series, for example As Is When (12 screenprints, 1965; London, Tate), based on the life and work of Ludwig Wittgenstein. The works combine hard-edged abstract designs with figurative, often mechanistic, elements and also fragments of texts from his work or life (for illustration see screenprinting). Paolozzi felt an affinity with Wittgenstein, in addition to being fascinated by his ideas. In the early 1960s Paolozzi developed a new way of creating his sculpture by collaborating with industrial engineering firms and eventually using aluminium. This led to a more severe machine style using rectilinear block elements, sometimes painted, as in Wittgenstein at Casino . In contrast to the sculptures of the preceding decade, these works are cool and precise, mimicking the attributes of machinery. In the late 1960s he made a number of chrome-plated steel and polished bronze sculptures in simple curving forms, for example Osaka Steel (chrome-plated steel, 3.64×3.64×7.29 m, 1969; Hakone-machi, Hakone Open-Air Mus.). With the film maker Denis Postle, Paolozzi made the black-and-white animated film, The History of Nothing (1960–62), using a succession of collages. Later films, again using animation, included Kafakon Kakkoon (1965), Mr Machine (1971) and 1984: Music for Modern Americans (1983). In the 1960s he also wrote books, including Metafisikal Translations (1962), a fragmentary text full of references to his earlier work, and Kex (1966), a long, dislocated narrative combined with found photographic images.
During the 1970s Paolozzi experimented with wood in a number of abstract relief works using an intricate network of geometric and biomorphic elements. Concurrent with these were brightly coloured abstract screenprints (e.g. Ciao Picasso, 1975; see 1984–5 exh. cat., p. 75) and sculptures combining mechanistic elements, such as Poems for the Trio MRT (aluminium, 1964; Leeds, C.A.G.). Despite earlier public commissions, in the 1980s he produced an increasing number of public sculptures, such as the stylized head of Expressionist theatre director Erwin Piscator (1980–81) in Euston Square, London. Others include the mosaic decorations (1980–83) for Tottenham Court Road underground station in London. Among his private work of the 1980s were a number of mutilated heads appearing as if badly pieced together from sections, as in the bronze Untitled (1983; see 1984 exh. cat., p. 28). The head was also the subject of collages and other sculptural works of the decade.
From Grove Art Online
© 2009 Oxford University Press