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!

Monday, 21 November 2016

The March of Time

Much as I have tried (!) I have yet to find any of Eduardo’s sculpture or his graphic work post-Seventies, as satisfying and attractive as the Sixties series which are the main feature of this blog. 

I feel that Paolozzi himself had a similar view.  Like most significant artists, he constantly sought to develop his artistic practice and find new forms of expression/technique.  But, I believe his thinking naturally strayed back to the heady days of As Is When, UEV, etc, from time to time, and this guided his eye and hand.  As examples, look at these two prints:
Blueprints for a New Museum, 1980 

The imagery and subject matter are familiar from the Sixties work.  However, the representational images here do not function quite so well in juxtaposition as in the older work without the abstract pattern use, which somehow both unified the overall image and also defined sub-fields.  But, as so often in the Fifties and Sixties, I sense that Eduardo’s Science Fiction head was well and truly on and connected.  And yet some of the objects which would have been fantasies for the future not so long before, had become by 1980, relics to display as if ancient, in a museum. 

From 1998, nearing the end of his life, comes this lithograph, very much in the style of the early Sixties prints and sculpture:
September 1998 

Colour use and form are to me classic Paolozzi, and all the better for that!

Thursday, 22 September 2016

For an aesthetic tea-time

As previously noted, Paolozzi often derived pattern from prosaic sources, for example the chequers on the Abba Zaba wrapper.  I could easily imagine his finding a pattern that inspired him on items of every-day crockery.  So it’s pleasing that his patterns have from time to time found their way onto tableware.  My thoughts on this have been prompted by the availability recently on eBay of this Rosenthal limited edition plate from 1984:

Courtesy of sconejamcream 

Possibly an appropriate plate on which to serve Mr Corbyn a smoked salmon and lobster on hand-made, organic, artisan wholegrain, sandwich? 

More recently Royal Doulton offered a terrific range of crockery featuring pure Paolozzi pattern in sumptuous saturated colours:
Courtesy of Royal Doulton 

I have some of this and it looks good as well as being nicely made.  Items from residual stocks are still available, for example from China Chaps:

Monday, 11 July 2016

Cloud Atomic Laboratory

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. 
Skull of Test Dummy. Proton-Synchron Electrophysical Laboratory: Vacuum Pumps to the Electromagnet.
©The Eduardo Paolozzi Foundation
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.

Monday, 16 May 2016

Upper Space

A very elegant installation of Paolozzi prints is currently to be seen at Yorkshire Sculpture Park, (until 12th June). 

See how good the six Z.E.E.P. prints look side by side:
Courtesy of the Eduardo Paolozzi Foundation

 For more information see -

Friday, 29 April 2016

Impossible Possibilities

This 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.
I 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:
By 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. 

As 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, For Charles Rennie Mackintosh. 

The rendition of pattern and the geometry is much more clinical than in any other Paolozzi print I have seen. 

I 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. 

The 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’ Prints  1961-1980, unless it represents one of untitled items, DP4886 or DP4887.

1 The full text of this letter is reproduced in Eduardo Paolozzi Writings and Interviews, edited by Robin Spencer, Oxford University Press, 2000