The Less Reputable Art of Eduardo Paolozzi


The art of Eduardo Paolozzi (1924–2005) has endured a strong, if decidedly unfashionable, reputation. Knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1989, Sir Paolozzi came to be something of a holy cow for British art, remembered principally as a cherished, if rather uninspiring, avatar of that most neutral of creative determinations: public art.

This vision of a safe, state-approved public sculptor is being gradually recuperated as something more radical. Following last year’s Frieze Art Fair, where a suite of kaleidoscopic prints by Paolozzi were incorporated into a booth designed by Swiss artist Urs Fischer for Gavin Brown’s Enterprise, Raven Row (London’s latest slick, privately funded non-profit) have teamed up with Four Corners Books and curator/academic David Brittain to present Eduardo Paolozzi: The Jet Age Compendium, an exhibition that seeks to further challenge orthodox views on the artists work.

A gnomic gathering of illustrated essays, collages, edition prints, notebooks, publications, objects and sculptures spread over the top two galleries of Raven Row, The Jet Age Compendium unfurls from the premise that in his contributions between 1967 and 1980 to longstanding British Literary journal Ambit, Paolozzi found new opportunities to express his dual passions for image-making and literature. (LEFT: COVER COURTESY OF RAVEN ROW)

Founded by Pediatrician and novelist Martin Bax in 1959, the open-ended title (Bax once argued, “I don’t really have a programme; I just put good things together”) chimed neatly with Paolozzi’s own increasingly post-disciplinary persuasions during the period. Recruited to Ambit in 1967 by the magazine’s prose editor, the late J.G. Ballard, Paolozzi developed a series of ambitious contributions using the magazine page as a space for collage, writing, and visual essays.

Tackling the war in Vietnam, the Americanization of post-war Europe, the intensity of technological and scientific progression, utopias of mass advertising, popular culture and consumerism, amongst other themes, the work demonstrates a decidedly more politically engaged Paolozzi. All nine examples are presented in their original published form at Raven Row. One such article, “MOONSTRIPS/GENERAL DYNAMIC F.U.N.” (1967) sees Paolozzi placing a schizoid multi-author text (subjects include Ludwig Wittgenstein, Jackie Kennedy and ‘The Strongest Doors in the World’) alongside crudely copied images of milk cartons, Disney characters, pin-up blondes and, most curiously, a Satyr riding a Yamaha motorcycle. The same method is repeated in a later text collage, Why We Are in Vietnam: A Novel (1969). Here Paolozzi shows his war mood as images of combat, sex and lifestyle play out against a backdrop of cold statistical data relating to nuclear defence and violent crime in late 60s America.

This fusion of provocative writing, found articles and incongruous images, which are common across each of his contributions on display, is disorientating; yet what the artist proposes in the pages of Ambit is never aleatory. Rather, Paolozzi’s visual literature seeks to disrupt—rather than abandon—the narrative experience, respectively pushing both image and text toward new surreal possibilities. In this sense Paolozzi’s interests in the Surrealist and Dadaist collages of Schwitters, Ernst and Duchamp, picked up during a sojourn to Paris during the late 40s, are abundantly apparent here. Equally, Paolozzi’s work for Ambit appears to continue the proto-pop project he began in 1952 as a co-founder of the London based Independent Group (1952–5); a cadre discursively orientated painters, sculptors, architects, writers and critics committed to introducing mass culture into debates concerning high art. (LEFT: INSTALLATION VIEW. COURTESY OF RAVEN ROW)

The exhibition exceeds the pages of Ambit with objects that references to Surrealism, and the efforts, in evidence, to collapse disctinctions of high and low in late Capitalist culture.A large vitrine placed at the entrance of the exhibition contains notebooks and pads peppered with spidery writing and found images. These, like the fresh single page magazine collages on display adjacently, as well as a room filled with space-aged toys and other objects, reveal the insatiable collector and gatherer in Paolozzi. A duo of brutish bronzes, more recognisable from his later period of public work, stand in anthropomorphic strangeness at either end of the top floor gallery, while Moonstrips Empire News (1967), a set of luxurious 16-color prints featuring jumbled cutup texts and fractured mechanical images from which Paolozzi’s first contribution to Ambit was adapted, runs almost the entire length of the same room.

Eduardo Paolozzi: The Jet Age Compendium is on view through November 1. Raven Row is located at 56 Artillery Lane, London.