From the Archives: Eduardo Paolozzi (1953)

By Toni del Renzio

Eduardo Paolozzi, Self Portrait, republished from Arts News and Review, Vol. V., No. 16, September 5th, 1953

On the occasion of Berlinische Galeries exhibition of works by British artist Eduardo Paolozzi, ArtReview is republishing Portrait of the Artist No. 120. Written by Independent Group member Toni del Renzio, the text was originally published on 5 September 1953, in what was then known as Arts News and ReviewLots of Pictures – Lots of Fun, on view 9 February – 28 May, will be presented in four parts, focusing on Paolozzi’s experimental works from the 1940s to 1970s. 

One of the directing intelligences of the ICA’s exhibition Parallel of Life and Art is Eduardo Paolozzi. The shape and scope of this exhibition certainly reflect that boundless energy, restless curiosity, insatiable thirst for the new, and above all, human warmth, which give a peculiar, a particular and an incontrovertible value to the sum of the poetic series of events which is Eduardo Paolozzi. Born in 1924 of immigrant South Italian parents but recently arrived in Edinburgh, he has followed strange paths to his unique present – civilian internment, work in a tea warehouse, a ward, the Slade at Oxford and London, two years in Paris, teaching at the Central School of Arts and Crafts, etc. etc.

The testimony of his achievements given, not so much by this recital as by the works he has left behind him, is contradictory, haunting, accusing, elegantly truculent, to be tamed by no tawdry cataloguing and spiritless stylistic analysis. There they are, these objects of his, facing us with their artless aesthetic, first notional examples of the mid-twentieth-century artefact: four fountains (Southbank 1951, and Hamburg 1953), textiles specially designed for Jane Drew in 1951 and subsequently for many other architects and connoscenti, a screen-printed ceiling for the office of an engineer (Jenkins, one of his collaborators in the ICA Exhibition), and numerous collage and sculpture in public and private collections (notably those belonging to the Museum of Modern Art in New York). The first award of the Critics’ Prize to Eduardo Paolozzi marked that even the career critics, notoriously and stubbornly incapable of recognising new talents, were forced to acknowledge the presence of the only other authentic individual besides Francis Bacon, even though Paolozzi makes nonsense of the standards by which they affect to judge.

Paolozzi’s work makes the least possible concession as to what it is all about, but a directness connects this artist to his production, akin somewhat to that which we have reason to believe joins him to a natural object. There is one proviso: Paolozzi’s work only appears to participate at this level after its emergence as a work of art, and its apparent naivete overlays a fundamental sophistication. These basic relations are definitive, so that the ‘sense’ of the work grows with it. Paolozzi, unique among British artists in this respect, as in so many others, stresses this by his extensive use of attribution rather than implication, and this perhaps accounts for the primitive feeling that surrounds and penetrates his work.

Paolozzi implies a whole chain of natural phenomena while he affixes, as it were, to his object the curious and inexplicable attributes of some organic process. In this way he has a sure grasp of his own, and his spectators’ emotions, and plays on the bared nerve of sensibility with alternate douches of hot and cold water.

Paolozzi is a wonderful inventor of ideas and tosses them into the arena, one after another. Yet the technical and aesthetic means he uses for his end must seem, by conventional standards, pathetically thin, but they are so bound up with that clumsy, heavy-handed elegance that they possess and air of just accidence. The same close union may be seen in those masterpieces, not yet surpassed, that the young Chirico launched at a startled world.

From Art News and Review, Vol. V., No. 16, September 5th, 1953