Sir Eduardo Paolozzi (1924-2005) was a sculptor and graphic artist who was a foundational figure in the Pop Art movement. His early influences came from contemporary artists living and working in Paris in the 1940s and his work with collage, sculpture, and printmaking. He further expanded his practice to incorporate Cubist aesthetics in his sculpture and Pop culture references in his silkscreen prints/collages.
Paolozzi was born in Scotland to a family of Italian immigrants who, when Italy declared war on the United Kingdom in 1940, were interned for three months at Saughton prison. His father, uncle, and grandfather were three of the 446 Italians who were shipped off to Canada on the Arandora Star, but they drowned when a German U-boat sunk the ship.
His post-secondary arts education began at the Edinburgh College of Art in 1942, and it continued when he studied briefly at Saint Martin’s School of Art the following year and at the University of London’s Slade School of Fine Art from 1944 to 1947. Following his graduation from the Slade School, Paolozzi moved to Paris and worked there from 1947 to 1949. His time in Paris proved to be particularly influential to the development of his artistic practice. This is due in part to the acquaintanceships he made with contemporary artists such as Alberto Giacometti, Constantin Brancusi, and Georges Braque, among others. He moved to Chelsea after his return from Paris, then moved once again in 1955 to Thorpe-le-Soken in Essex with his family. There he established Hammer Prints Limited with Nigel Henderson where they produced wallpaper, ceramics, and textiles.
In the 1950s, Paolozzi garnered some recognition for his works, especially his screenprints and collages. His collage titled I Was A Rich Man’s Plaything (1947) kickstarted his career as a Pop artist leading into the 1950s, and in 1952, he founded the Independent Group, which foregrounded the Pop Art movements that rose in Britain and the United States over the next two decades. His sculpture also began to take on geometric, linear, and Cubist forms that became Paolozzi’s recognizable style.
He began teaching sculpture and ceramics in Germany in the early 1960s and continued to have a relationship with the country and its art scene for the next two decades. His artwork at this time became increasingly experimental, especially his silkscreen prints, as he employed technological elements and imagery derived from Pop culture.
In 1968, Paolozzi was appointed to the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire and almost eleven years later was elected a member of the Royal Academy. In 1989, he was named a Knight Bachelor by Queen Elizabeth II. From 1986 until his death in 2005, he also held the office of Her Majesty’s Sculptor in Ordinary for Scotland. The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art was given a large collection of his works in 1994 and they opened the Dean Gallery to display them.
In 2001, Paolozzi suffered a stroke that left him wheelchair-bound, and he died in a London hospital four years later at the age of 81.