Eduardo Paolozzi, “Figure”

Eduardo Paolozzi, “Figure”

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Eduardo Paolozzi, Figure, circa 1957.

British, 1924-2005

Like Bernard Meadows (1915–2005), Edward Paolozzi was deeply affected by the politics and realities of World War II. Before the war, he studied at the Slade School of Art and was much impressed by the ideas of surrealism. He worked primarily in collage—a favorite of Dada and surrealist artists because disparate images could be juxtaposed to provoke an intellectual or psychological reaction.

Shortly after the war, Paolozzi made a series of collages combining pictures of classical sculptures with images of modern machines. The works are an expression of the turmoil caused by the old European order colliding with the new technological world. Applying the methodology of collage to sculpture in the 1950s, he gathered old machine parts and cast-off technology components, which he pressed into slabs of wax. After casting them into bronze, Paolozzi welded the pieces together into semiabstract figures.

These sculptures relate to the emergence of cybernetics in the arts, literature, philosophy, and science. The idea of automata (humanlike machines) had appeared in science fiction, in tandem with the increasing use of machines during the Industrial Revolution of the nineteenth century. After World War II, scientists began publishing accounts of efforts to merge electronics with human capabilities, making the robots of science fiction seem feasible. In stories, robots were usually viewed as ominous: anthropomorphic yet inhuman, intelligent yet soulless, an uncontrollable threat to human supremacy. Unlike today, the robots of the 1950s and ‘60s were rarely portrayed as sympathetic machines.

Paolozzi’s robotoid sculptures have irregular contours and seemingly ravaged surfaces. They appear damaged, as if survivors of a holocaust. Figure lacks both arms and a head, and its clumsy legs and feet appear heavy and difficult to move. The suggestion of a small step forward may be an ironic art historical allusion to the damaged anatomy of Auguste Rodin’s (1840–1917) Walking Man of 1899–1905 and Alberto Giacometti’s (1901–1966) Walking Man sculptures of 1946–48.

  • <p>Eduardo Paolozzi, Figure, circa 1957.  Photo by Ben Aqua.</p>

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