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.
Ever since I first set eyes on one of his prints in 1965, (would have been one of the As Is When series), as well as revelling in their sheer visual splendour, I have wanted to understand the meaning of Paolozzi’s imagery and texts.This I have tried to analyse and explain throughout my writing on this blog.During the course of the Sixties the complexity of Paolozzi’s thinking and expression progressed, peaking with Z.E.E.P.
Then we come to Cloud Atomic Laboratory.This is a series of eight etchings in an edition of 75.It was commissioned by British Olivetti and was printed at Alecto Studios in 1971.To my eye these are the least attractive images I have seen from Paolozzi.I’m missing the usual multiple juxtapositions, the incorporation of pattern and the sheer pleasure of rich colouration.
Paolozzi suggested that these photographic images were a top skim of the huge number he had been collecting since 1952.Importantly, there was no modification of them beyond the rendering in a uniform, very bland photogravure-style printing.That the printing method was etching was the only cue – apart from knowledge of who was presenting them – to their being ‘artworks’.So really we are here concerned with the same Dada notion whereby Duchamp’s urinal became a piece of sculpture simply because it was installed in an art gallery.An important milestone in art ‘history’, but not really worth repeating some 54 years later.
I was prompted to write this post by the recent receipt of mailshot from GoldMark – this excellent gallery/on-line seller was offering a set of Cloud Atomic Laboratory prints at £1,200 each.
So what have we got?It’s another cracking series title, hinting at sexy stuff like innovative, leading edge technology and space travel.(On the downside, I do sometimes muddle this series up with the previous year’s Conditional Probability Machine.)It is also a further example of Paolozzi’s willingness to keep trying new approaches/media, despite having found great facility and success with screenprinting and lithography.
Otherwise, we have a set of images which I find quite depressing.Some of this is due to their style being very similar to that of illustrations found in the outdated encyclopaedias which were prevalent in the Fifties – the very poor ‘equivalent’ then for an information-hungry kid of today’s Internet.
I’m sorry to say that for me these prints do not achieve the ‘bridging’ function Paolozzi cited in explaining their creation in his Introduction reproduced at the top of this post.
is an intriguing stand-alone screenprint from 1973.Entitled ‘Quadrum Dax’, it was printed by
Kelpra in an edition of 100.Dimensions
are 86cms x 64cms.
see it as a very satisfying hybrid, recalling the mechanistic, painted
sculptures of the early Sixties, the pattern componentry of As Is When and Universal Electronic Vacuum and looking forward to the more ethereal
graphics style that would peak with Paolozzi’s prints of the late 70s.It is an exemplar of what Paolozzi was talking
about in his letter published in The Guardian, 6 March 1967:
employing engineering methods the iconography of the sculptor can be extended
far beyond the normal range of the traditionally trained and studio bound
artist and the high technical standards of industrial commercial process,
including screen printing, can provide a complexity and range of possibility
impossible by normal art-craft printing methods1.
to colour, I regard it as a halfway house between the use of high contrast,
saturated hues – often of the primaries – in the Sixties’ print series and the
much more muted schemes of the Kottbusserdam
Pictures and Turkish Music series (1974), and Calcium
Light Night series (1974-6).The composition
anticipates the four-block structure of the woodcut series of 1975, ForCharles
rendition of pattern and the geometry is much more clinical than in any other
Paolozzi print I have seen.
suspect that Paolozzi selected the title mainly on the basis of his liking for
the sound and/or look of quirky words and phrases.It is not a notable Latin expression.Quadrum
obviously refers to ‘four’ and Dax can
‘mean’ anything from a proper name to the German Stock Exchange.
print does not feature in the relatively comprehensive Tate on-line catalogue
and is missing from the lists in Kelpra
Studio: The Rose and Chris Prater Gift. Artists’ Prints1961-1980, unless it represents one of
untitled items, DP4886 or DP4887.
Abba-Zaba is an ‘artist’s book’
created by Eduardo Paolozzi whilst he was a guest lecturer at Watford School of
Art in 1970.The content continues
themes from Moonstrips and General Dynamic F.U.N.
production method and cost constraints limited the image content to black and
white rendition.Here is a sample page:
one level of interpretation, given the title, Paolozzi, tongue in cheek, was
perhaps presenting a compendium of texts and imagery which represented a neatly
distilled A-Z of the World, (all in the course just 70 pages.)In 1970 we were not yet nearing the brink of
the new world of information technology but I believe Paolozzi had considerable
foresight of this.With this he envisaged
the completely revised cultural situation in which we now live: a milieu abounding
with information, images, concepts, speculation, news, junk news, soap opera,
advertising, marketing, video, audio, virtual reality, noise, music, jingles, and
dissonance.This is a 24/7 world in
which it is increasingly more difficult to be all-knowing/expert as there is
just such a huge volume of data to be assimilated.And it is certainly impossible to ‘sum up’
fields of information neatly in the sort of reference works/encyclopaedias we
were still turning to in 1970.With the
inter-connectivity of information sources as well as the sheer volume of the
stuff, any single - or body of - representation of knowledge is likely to be
obsolete before you can re-transmit or print it.
what is Abba-Zaba?It’s a brand of
Californian confectionery manufacturer, Annabelle Candy Company.The bar itself is chewy – like toffee – with a
peanut flavour centre.I don’t know if
Paolozzi liked the taste, but I’m sure he was very attracted by the packaging,
especially the chequer patterned wrapper – there is an echo here of the Cox’s gelatine
packet design that he used in the As Is When series, see - http://paolozzi.blogspot.co.uk/2014/06/tortured-life.html
also enjoys plenty of Paolozzi-friendly mass-media associations – name-checked
in tv shows, movies and rock music; with the latter for example, Capt Beefheart’s
LP, Safe as Milk was originally slated to be named Abba-Zaba.
The book was published in a
limited edition of 500 and nowadays it regularly comes up for sale, recent examples
being offered for an average price of £195 – so it’s a very affordable way to
own a signed/numbered Paolozzi printed work.
I have been a fan of Paul Smith’s sumptuous ties and socks for years.Long ago I had a wonderful pair of stripy
socks, looking rather akin to a 425 line tv screen suffering from, (maybe alien-transmitted
from deep space), interference, which I referred to as my Eduardos.So I was especially pleased to find this
collaboration between the Designer and Emma Paolozzi:
I’m only sorry that I was unable to get to London for this event last October.It was at 9 Albemarle Street – I would have enjoyed the added nostalgia factor that this street was the location of the Editions Alecto gallery which I frequently visited in the Sixties.
have always much preferred Paolozzi’s graphic work to the sculpture.It is true, however, that it is the latter
that has received the most general acclaim.And some of the oeuvre – the Tottenham Court Road mosaics, ‘Four Towers’
and ‘Hamlet in a Japanese Manner’ for example – straddles the media.
(Part of) Hamlet in a
Japanese Manner Courtesy GoMA
the sculpture, some of the Sixties works appeal to me as they relate directly
to – and have the same ‘look’ as - the great prints, such as, ‘Wittgenstein at
in his career, Paolozzi became very interested in Sir Isaac Newton and William
Blake’s monotype of him.In the various
versions Paolozzi succeeded in expressing the reality of human thinking,
whereby apparently contradictory notions can – indeed, HAVE – to be
accommodated.Blake, from a traditional
religious viewpoint disapproved of the Newtonian quest to scientifically
account for the world, (in the Wittgenstein sense), and rendered him as myopic,
whereas Paolozzi’s Isaac, in the version at the British Library in London, has Michelangelo’s
David’s all seeing eyes.
I remain convinced that Eduardo should have stuck to printmaking – just look,
below, at what happened when he was in the role of the sculptor - a suit (!)
and . . . !
have just finished reading Ann Shaw’s Paolozzi
Revealed.It’s an account of Paolozzi’s
10 day 1996 ‘masterclass’ in which 18 people participated.Ann herself seems to have ‘got’ Paolozzi
eventually, though there was clearly some animosity, especially because of an
incident on the last day when he gave her a verbal dressing down in front of
record of the ‘event’ has an ongoing theme wherein the ‘students’ feel
dissatisfaction with the lack of instruction/direction by Paolozzi.Coupled with his apparent lack of manners –
what we’d now call ‘interpersonal skills’ – the Artist is portrayed as
antipathetic, hostile even.
is said that the most technically gifted footballers cannot be good coaches
because of a lack of patience: they just can’t understand why their pupils are
unable to perform with the brilliance they themselves do.And with Paolozzi you have a man who has
spent a lifetime building up ideas/concepts and repositories of objects and
imagery – component materials with which he is ready to work in novel and
refreshing ways at the drop of a hat.Little wonder that he was frustrated by a group of mature ‘students’ who
seemed to be wanting to be told ‘what to do’!
told the group that they would ‘learn’ by an osmosis-like process facilitated
by being in his company.That seems
entirely logical.All that is unfathomable
to me is why Paolozzi would have agreed to conduct the masterclass at all – I can’t
see what was in it for him.
in response to Paolozzi’s suggestion that the class goes to the library to read
what’s been written about him, Ann says that he hadn’t written much
himself.That’s not so – for starters you’ll
be more than a day or two working your way through the book, Eduardo Paolozzi: Writings and Interviews edited
by Robin Spencer.This book alone will
tell you far more about Paolozzi than the recent monograph by Judith Collins which
Ann advocates: it is a disappointing book for its superficiality and absence of
fresh insight and interpretation of Paolozzi’s ideas and imagery.
account is fascinating and the photographs add immediacy.If you already ‘know’ Paolozzi you won’t
learn much you don’t already know, but it will add what used to be referred to
in painting classes at my Sixties Art Schools as ‘local colour!’.