Monday, 29 January 2018

Aye, Robot (apologies to Isaac Asimov)

Paolozzi, the digital artist in a still-analogue age, had a fascination with robots, especially around 1970.  Nearly 50 years on, these things are now frequently in the news as examples break through from being laboratory projects into the everyday environment, for instance as now-practicable housework ‘assistants,’ and, yikes, as functioning sexual partners.  What was science fiction to us 1950s/60s/70s-dwellers is fast becoming everyday reality.  Disappointingly, the aesthetics of realisation don’t compare well with the imaginations of Fifties artists, Eagle’s Frank Hampson for instance, whose visualisation of the dashing man in space – Dan Dare – makes Apollo moonwalker Buzz Aldrin look no more than a  lumbering, jazzed-up Michelin Man.

Likewise, the primary-coloured tin and plastic toy robots of the Fifties appear much more characterful than the rather sterile-looking models now emerging, (though in regard to the sexually active ones, being hygienically sterile may well be a very desirable attribute . . .)

 Robots amongst a sample of the collection of toys amassed over many years by Paolozzi

Sexbot as pictured in the Sun, January 2017

But, back to 1970, and it’s a bit awkward in the Artist’s studio since it looks as if Eduardo’s chat-up lines were not impressing his mechanical companion:

Courtesy of Robin Spencer (Eduardo Paolozzi: Writings and Interviews)

Paolozzi said of the etchings series, Cloud Atomic Laboratory, (1971):

The schism that separates Space Age Engineering, technical photography, film making and types of street-art from fine art activities is for many people/artists unbridgeable.

Within the grand system of paradoxes, the theme of this portfolio is the Human Predicament. Content enlarged by precision. History shaded into the grey scale as in the television tube.

Le Robot Robert,’ is from the series:

© Trustees of the Paolozzi Foundation

Below is a detail of the 'Shelves of Readymades' which was made for the 1971 Tate Paolozzi exhibition.  This has been preserved within the Krazy Kat Archive kept at the V&A.:

Courtesy of Robin Spencer (Eduardo Paolozzi: Writings and Interviews)

Much convoluted theorising is valid about Paolozzi’s purpose in using robots as subject matter – analogy with issues of control/subservience in a new technological-age, for example – but he said something much more straightforward in 1960 talking to Edouard Roditi:

. . . if one of us (sculptors) chances to find a particularly nice and spooky-looking piece of junk like an old discarded boiler, he can scarcely avoid using it as the trunk or body of a figure, if only because its shape suggests a body to anyone who sets out to do this kind of assembly work.  Then one only needs to weld something smaller onto the top to suggest a head, and four limb-like bits and pieces onto the sides and the bottom to suggest arms and legs, and there you have the whole figure, which has come to life like a traditional Golem or robot . . .

This late Seventies book with its strangely engaging cover image was referenced by Paolozzi:

Paolozzi’s interest in these things as subject matter was sustained through to near the end of his career, as demonstrated by the most impressive sculpture, ‘Vulcan,’ installed in the Dean Gallery, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art:

© (c) Trustees of the Paolozzi Foundation

And, meanwhile, over at the National Museum of Scotland, some more Paolozzi robotic creations keep guard of a collection of ‘early-man’ artefacts:

© National Museums Scotland

Paolozzi had always liked to explore the juxtaposition of images and objects, contrasting the mundane with the deeply philosophical for example.  I think therefore that he'd be particularly pleased with this installation.

Friday, 1 December 2017

Cutting and Pasting - for real!

As noted in this blog a time or two previously, I often reflect on Paolozzi’s achievement in creating his complex, collage-based 60s/70s prints without the aid of the electronic/digital software we today take for granted.  His hands will have suffered the ravages of several craft processes including ‘cutting and pasting,’ in which nasty sharp blades and various ‘toxic’ adhesive substances – think of Cow Gum fumes for instance – were involved.  But not always just Paolozzi’s own fair hands . . .

In this connection I had the good fortune recently to be contacted by Keith Coates Walker, Educator and Musician, who told me that he had been an assistant to Paolozzi on the Z.E.E.P. series.  (Keith also acted in this capacity for Pop Art stars, Jim Dine and Claus Oldenburg.)

Since there have been several accounts of ‘difficult’ working relationships with Eduardo, Keith’s general comments are interesting:

I suppose he could appear a bit remote and not personable . . . he was totally focused on his work, nothing else seemed to matter to him.  However he was on the other hand a very generous human being and I got along with him very well. It was certainly an interesting time and I enjoyed the experience enormously.

Regarding working practice, Keith explains:

Eduardo gave me a range of ephemera which were a mix of bits of packaging, magazine clips etc which he wanted converting to line drawings.  These were then photographed individually; (this, of course, was before Photoshop!) The resulting images were then printed as black and white photographs. The next stage was to construct the intended print as a full size paste-up.  This itself was then photographed and an offset litho plate was made and a number of copies were run off so that I could work on the colour separations.

The next stage (see example Z.E.E.P. ‘Agile Coin Gross Decision Logic‘ image below) was to work out the colours and the general balance.  This was done in three shades of grey.

The next stage (see Z.E.E.P. example image below) saw the introduction of a couple of shades of blue.

In the next stage (again see Z.E.E.P. example image below) I added Letraset textures and decided on the final colour separations.

At every stage there were a good few number of prints done to play around with so that alterations could be made.  If I remember it correctly the whole process took about 6 months.  Doing the initial drawings was the easy part, it was the rest that was lengthy, to and fro from the photographer and the printers. This was the first time that Eduardo had used offset litho for his prints - prior to that he had always used screen printing. The printers* specialised in map printing - in fact on the back of the image above is a map, this being the first off the press having made use of a piece of ‘scrap’ paper.  I'm assuming this is now quite a rarity.

* Advanced Graphics

I am very grateful to Keith for his generosity in providing this insight into a process that has not previously been detailed elsewhere.  Keith himself is keeping the particular creative style in play with his own prints, for example, Shock Velocity 113 (upper), and Biscotti’s Dream (lower) as below:

© Keith Walker

© Keith Walker

There’s much, much more, at - so indulge yourself!

Wednesday, 22 November 2017


This is a very interesting and well-produced post on the It’s Nice That blog by Billie Muraben.  It’s rich in anecdote about Paolozzi and illustrated with some excellent photography:

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

The Third Dimension Flattened

A rarely-seen lithograph recently crossed my path.  It’s from 1963 and, as far as I know, is untitled:

The image featured in The Metallization of a Dream.  This book, created by John Munday, gathered together a selection of Paolozzi’s fifties/early sixties work.  A commentary text was contributed by Lawrence Alloway.  It was published by the Royal College of Art’s ‘Lion & Unicorn Press’ in an edition of 400.

Both graphic and sculptural work is included, with an emphasis on technological source imagery and components, often of automotive industry origin.

Although a pleasingly ‘flat’ image, the print could well be an intermediary study for a sculpture piece typical of Paolozzi’s output in the first few years of the sixties decade.  For comparison, here, below, are some example three-dimensional ‘cousins’:

The Twin Tower of the Sfinx-State II (1962)

Imperial War Museum (1962)

Tower for Mondrian (1963-4)

Friday, 9 June 2017

More, NOT Less

Quite an unpleasant critique by Otto Saumarez of Paolozzi’s oeuvre in Apollo magazine, 4th May issue.  Saumarez highlights Eduardo’s “willingness to embrace ugliness and discordance” in a negative sense.  I would suggest that this attribute, coupled with an ability to find and use images/objects of great beauty, was vital in Paolozzi’s achievements in creating artworks with multi-dimensional relevances and interpretations.

The critique suggests that Paolozzi’s modernism is, “far removed from the elegant smoothness of Henry Moore as it is possible to imagine.”  I’d say however that endless reiterations of that elegant smoothness leave us with a very predictable and non-stimulating oeuvre, whereas Paolozzi delights with ever-changing, fresh and thought-provoking work in a range of media.

Saumarez claims in regard to Pop that Paolozzi, “has none of the panache brought to the style by its best purveyors.”  I thought it had long ago been accepted that Paolozzi was never, simplistically, a “Pop Artist” and once you’ve reviewed the scope of the print series such as Moonstrips, you certainly won’t be thinking of its creator as someone lacking panache!

In this blog, and elsewhere, I’m happy to admit that I’ve never liked Paolozzi’s sculpture as much as the graphic work.  However, I would consider the Sixties/early Seventies pieces – often with echoes of forms/ideas seen in the print series – very evocative of the spirit of experimentation/use of industrial techniques which characterises that period.  To refer to, “the vacuous slickness of his aluminium and chrome-plated sculptures of the mid to late ’60s,” has no relationship to reality in my view.  I may be being a bit thick, but I don’t detect any vacuous slickness about this 1969 ‘Study for ‘Osaka Steel:"

Courtesy N. J. Cotterell

Friday, 3 February 2017

Back to History

Almost pre-history in fact – i.e. even before As Was When!

Making collages, Paolozzi was limbering up for his fabulous Sixties graphics series in the preceding decade.  Between these and ‘As Is When’ there were a few works of special significance since they ‘practised’ that series’ very particular format, style and content.

The History of Nothing’ was a short (12 mins) black & white film made by Paolozzi with the help of Denis Postle.  Inspired by Dada/Surrealist ideas, it consisted of an animated series of collages.  In anticipation of concepts for a new kind of interactive fine art which would fully emerge at the end of the decade, it is likely that Paolozzi hoped that by bombarding the viewer with unrelated images a new, self-contained perception of reality would be engendered.  This would be based on the notion that the human brain when presented with images without visually- or linguistically-indicated logical relationships will by default ‘invent’ connecting links intuitively.

In 1962 Paolozzi started working at Kelpra Studio with Chris Prater.  One of their first collaborations was a screenprint, ‘Four Stills from the History of Nothing’.  This was based on a collage he had made whilst teaching in Hamburg.  The main, central elements include items of mining machinery and a strange striped cat set in a constricted, striped environment.  This is the print:

© TheTrustees of the Eduardo Paolozzi Foundation

I believe that Paolozzi intended to ramp-up stimulation of our (the viewer) creative perception by confusing us with both the print’s title and the presentation of the component images.  With the word ‘history’ it is natural to think of information conveyed in a linear, progressive format, (often a ‘chronology’ or ‘timeline’).  Paolozzi’s style in overall picture composition and the juxtaposition of component elements denies such a perception.

Here, as in so many of the Sixties graphic works, images of machinery/technology feature prominently.  At that time the range and capability of technology was expanding at an unprecedented rate of progress, especially because of the invention of electronics.  Equally some more familiar technologies – from the Industrial Revolution for instance – had, by virtue of their relative simplicity and size, become ‘quaint’ and ‘olde-worlde’, (‘historic’).  But the functionality of contemporary, more ‘hi-tech’ machines and devices would revolutionise the potential for image manipulation; I guess that Paolozzi fully foresaw how computers would enable an artist to create imagery with a freedom and sophistication that was impossible at that mid-century point for him with his meagre ‘tool kit’ of hard-copy print source material, knife, scissors and adhesives.

From a 2017 viewpoint potential referencing is intriguing.  For instance, is that Schrödinger’s cat? (age 27: not bad for a Felis catus) – you know, the one that inhabits the box in the service of quantum mechanics theory? – a discipline that will not reach general ‘popular’ awareness until the end of the 20th century; and what of coal mining, the basis for a technology that is seen as a major contributor to global-warming, a phenomenon which threatens to spell the end of history?

The magazine wrapper fragments provide a wry comment on the value of information.  Here packaging is the visual device used, with no sign of what would have been physically within, what should surely have been the object of interest, i.e. the magazine itself, and, in a further non-apparent layer, the informational content of the magazine.  In this way Paolozzi seems to have been practising the way of thinking with ‘pictures’ as would be a concern of As Is When, as well as rehearsing that series’ characteristic visual devices and their rendering.

Purely visually, this print looks to me to be a close relative of: Artificial Sun and Reality (As Is When); Protocol Sentences (Universal Electronic Vacuum); King Kong King Kong (Moonstrips Empire News) and The ABC of Z (General Dynamic Fun).

But, whatever its antecedents and ‘offspring,’ it’s yet another great one!

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Overdue Re-evaluation

Rick Poynor began his succinct post about Eduardo on thus:

Since Eduardo Paolozzi died in 2005 after several years of illness, a reassessment of his work has been gathering momentum. It’s a welcome development. For admirers of the Scottish artist, born to Italian parents, it sometimes seemed that, despite his knighthood in 1988 – or maybe, in some way, because of the establishment’s embrace – Paolozzi had become a critically neglected figure, his many achievements as sculptor, designer and printmaker overlooked. Conceptual art and its later offshoots monopolised critical attention, while easy to appreciate painters such as David Hockney and Lucian Freud received the publicity and accolades.

Overall, it's a good, thoughtful post with two of the prints as illustrations.  Rick's comments about the accessibility of the work of, e.g., Hockney and Freud, ring true, though those are two artists whose work reflect much skill and patient craftsmanship.  But think of all the other contemporary artists who attract the attention Eduardo currently does not, and compare the thinking and graphic expertise invested in his oeuvre with that deployed in, e.g., an Emin or Perry.

Patience is a great virtue, but after years of unfulfilled expectation, I do tire of waiting to see Eduardo's supreme virtuosity in printmaking fully recognised and celebrated beyond the realms of a little old blog like this. 

Happy New Year!