Throughout much of my adult like I have lived, worked and traveled through London, and, like many, Paolozzi was a daily presence in my life. His works are dotted around the city, as documented by The Londonist, though the list is sadly now out of date. His friezes at Tottenham Court Road station were a ray of sunshine in a dismal, grey commute. It is sad to hear that these will be largely destroyed in the upcoming refurbishment.
When I worked in High Holborn in the 80s, I walked past his self portrait ‘The Artist as Hephaestus’ every day and it certainly improved the location. I thought it looked like a man who had been deconstructed and then put back together by a machine. The external fixings around the knee look like those used in orthopaedic surgery and the sieve-like object looks like the tension mechanism used after finger tendon surgery. This fracturing and reconstruction seems to have been a regular theme through many of his works. It is not surprising to read the Paolozzi had a great interest in early cybernetics (Parallel Systems: Lawrence Alloway and Eduardo Paolozzi, no date). This statue was removed when the building was refurbished and High Holborn is the poorer.
Paolozzi’s fascination with machines and the human body considered or extrapolated as a machine has always struck a chord with me. I have been closely involved in engineering, one way or another, all my life and love engineering machines and tools. During this course I have been using my grandfather’s wood working tools and have been considering basing a piece around them. My husband’s metal working tools are also both utilitarian and sculptural, so Paolozzi was a natural choice for research for this part of the course.
During a recent study visit to Tate Britain, I took the opportunity to see a couple of his works in person. The first, Konsol, is a large bronze sculpture made of a series of stacked and welded bronze boxes which evokes a factory or tower block but in an anthropomorphic form. Some faces of the blocks are heavily textured with mechanistic motifs, but others are plane or nearly so, giving a feeling of great solidity and permanence. The anthropomorphic nature is more apparent when his earlier work ‘The Philosopher’ or ‘Mechanik Zero’ are considered.
Some of his works are really crisp such as this plaster frieze. I have been trying to think how he achieved this. I think he must have used wooden pieces drilled and fixed as a template which was then impressed into clay. Other works have a soft plasticity to them, such as the one included in the course notes. I have found a photograph in this article showing him releasing a translucent sheet from plaster to produce just such a cast. This must have been wax, I think, which would have given a much softer, less crisp result. The article talks about his working practice: ‘Paolozzi adapted the lost-wax method to behave like collage. He invented a means of constituting figurative sculpture from dissonant found material. Instead of moulding his figures out of wax, Paolozzi began with slabs and irregularly shaped masses of clay, into which he pressed various three-dimensional objects from his collection. Wax was poured over the clay surface before the wax blocks were treated with a refractory and heated to form a mould. These moulds were pieced together to form vertical figurative constructions in a manner that echoes collage.’ (Parallel Systems: Lawrence Alloway and Eduardo Paolozzi, no date)
On the way back from the Tate I visited his 1982 sculpture next to Pimlico station.
This tower conceals an underground ventilation shaft and the top portion references the shape and situation of the water tanks on towers used by steam trains. The middle section is surrounded by pipes implying a pumping mechanism which endows the form with some idea of life and a circulation system. The bottom portion is covered in friezes which bring together a wide, humorous collection of images, mechanical gears, levers and switches combined with plastic toys, astronauts, mechanical butterflies, a camera, clock faces, a tv. Some of the motifs are used repeatedly in different juxtapositions. Chaos is avoided by the shapes being largely orientated vertically, horizontally or at 45 degrees. In contrast to some other of his reliefs, the soft edges to the impressed shapes feel like plastic rather than metal. There is a clear link to the earlier man-machines but also Paolozzi’s early Pop Art work using collage.
Things to think about for my own relief pieces:
- the material of which an impressed item is made comes through to the final piece via crispness and surface texture
- consider the ‘background’, whether I want it smooth or textures
- the relationships of items impressed, both in terms of the negative space and the relevance between items
- can items impressed relate to the ‘background’ through marks they make?
- can pieces be joined to make something larger and relevant, and not just a cube?
- is it possible to break the forms out of the frame?
- is colour a positive addition, or does it detract from form and texture?