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Original Creators: Eduardo Paolozzi

We take a look at some iconic artists from numerous disciplines who have left an enduring and indelible mark on today’s creators.
October 24, 2011, 8:19pm

Each week we pay homage to a select "Original Creator"—an iconic artist from days gone by whose work influences and informs today's creators. These are artists who were innovative and revolutionary in their fields. Bold visionaries and radicals, groundbreaking frontiersmen and women who inspired and informed culture as we know it today. This week: Eduardo Paolozzi.

Mostly known for his sculptures of unprecedented composition, Eduardo Luigi Paolozzi (1924-2005) is also revered as one of the most instrumental underpinnings of British pop art. The collage-based works of this extraordinarily inventive printmaker remain as some of the finest fossils of pop art, fetishizing the unconventional, the crude and the gruff into a new and provocative milieu.

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Born from Italian descent in Leith of Edinburgh in 1924, Paolozzi spent his early years refining his technique as a draftsman, drawing for hours on end in his parents’ ice cream parlour. The young artist also realized his curiosity for collecting knickknacks, a precursor to his future pop art collections, as he accrued an extensive collection of matchboxes, cigarette cards, clippings from American magazines and other found objects.

I was a Rich Man’s Plaything (1947)

Meet The People (1948)

Studying at the Edinburgh College of Art in 1943, St. Martin's School of Art in 1944 and finally at the Scale School of Art in Oxford from 1945 to 1947, Paolozzi found himself continuously on the periphery of what was conventional, questioning boundaries and enjoying Picasso whilst his educators gravely disagreed. Still, his works as a student deemed recognition. In 1947, Paolozzi sold his works at his first solo exhibition at the Mayor Gallery in London.

For the next two years, the inquisitive artist moved to Paris, mingling with the likes of Arp, Giacometti and Brâncuși and immersing himself on the ideas of Dada, Surrealism and art brut. It was here Paolozzi produced his first mercurial collages, born out of inspiration from Dada photomontages. Snipping kitchen appliance adverts from American magazines, didactic illustrations from science books and meretricious covers from cheap reads, he cut and pasted the roots to what would become an iconoclastic movement less than a decade later.

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Real Gold (1949)

An Empire of Silly Statistics . . . A Fake War for Public Relations (1968)

Returning to London, Paolozzi focused his collage technique in both printmaking and sculpture as well as film. During the 1950s, his works echoed a cut-and-paste mentality: a clash of culled sources intentionally displaced and randomly rearranged. His prints reveal abrupt seams, juxtaposing images of glamour girls and automotive machinery. Assembled from scrap yard junk, his roughly cast sculptures, as archetypes of the age of technology, are neither smooth nor subtle in composition or impression.

In 1952, Paolozzi co-founded the London-based Independent Group, an informal group of artists and thinkers at the Institute of Contemporary Arts that shared discussions on their uncommon interests on culture “as found,” by reinterpreting technology and popular culture. They were also considered the forerunners of British pop art. In their first meeting, Paolozzi projected a scrapbook of his collages that portrayed mished-mashed snippets of an all-American lifestyle. The notable I was a Rich Man’s Plaything was shown and was the first visual artwork described as ‘pop art’ (art critic Lawrence Alloway first coined the term in 1954). The exposition of this raw and radical aesthetic gave way to the decisive exploration for new approaches in contemporary visual culture.

Installation from Parallel of Life and Art exhibition (1953)
Courtesy of The Independent Group

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Poster for This Is Tomorrow exhibition (1956)
Courtesy of The Independent Group

This cutting and clashing of ideas and information became significantly realized in the wildly pedagogical exhibitions he collaborated on with Alison and Peter Smithson and Nigel Henderson: Parallel Of Life and Art (1953) and This Is Tomorrow (1956). Combining notions of technology, ethnography and archaeology through art, photography and installation, Paolozzi, the Smithsons and Henderson found an unforeseen connection in the value and relevance of popular mass culture, further cementing the pillars towards a new medium of expression and thought.

Still from collaged film History is Nothing (1963)

Wittgenstein In New York (1965)

The 1950s and 1960s were probably the most prolific periods of Paolozzi's creative career. In 1965, he produced a markedly affluent portfolio in the pop art genre, a collection of 12 screen prints, and also an ode to Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein: As Is When. By arranging abstract patterns, text, images of airplanes and Disney characters, the collection—as many of Paolozzi’s works foreshadow—questions the relationship between man and machines, giving a historic peek into the personality of the era as well as one of its founders.

As a dedicated advocate of pop culture, not for its beauty but rather for its fickle and temporary nature, Paolozzi prodigiously sculpted and pasted an exemplary canon of disparate ideas and rash innovations that continue to seep into today's world of art and technology. His legacy, his works born from his insatiable curiosity and his propensity to provoke, remain as an iconic scrapbook of 21st century visual culture.