The Other Pop Art Exhibition To See This Month
“Newton After Blake”, 1994-7 by Sir Eduardo Paolozzi, British Library forecourt, London. Photograph by Mr Paul Grundy/British Library. Courtesy of The Whitechapel Art Gallery. © Trustees of the Paolozzi Foundation, licensed by DACS
Head to London’s Whitechapel Gallery for a retrospective of British artist Sir Eduardo Paolozzi.
If you’re living anywhere in the vicinity of London, and you’re unlucky enough to be among those of us that check Instagram 20 plus times a day, you’re no doubt currently been bombarded with #Hockney hashtags as a flurry of the city’s residents flock to the newly-opened exhibition at Tate Britain celebrating six decades of the influential artist’s work. (We admit, MR PORTER has Mr David Hockney fever too, which prompted us to look back at our 2013 conversation with the man himself last week.) But, dizzying and pleasing though all these shared images of swimming pools and colourful faces might be, it would be a shame to let them overshadow the opening of another exhibition this week, on the other side of town.
We’re talking, here, about the Whitechapel’s celebration of Sir Eduardo Paolozzi (1924-2005), an incredibly innovative British artist who not only left an indelible stamp on the city of London (it’s his colourful mosaics that line the walls of Tottenham Court Road tube station, and his gargantuan, steampunk-y sculptures that stand in public spaces across the capital), but paved the way for artists like Mr Hockney with his early work. Ever-inquisitive about acceptable methods of art production, Sir Eduardo became, in the 1940s, one of the earliest artists to use commercial advertising and mass-produced illustrations in his then collage-based pieces, a fact that puts him a few years ahead of even Mr Andy Warhol and often sees him referred to as the “godfather of pop art”.
“Wittgenstein in New York” (from the As is When portfolio), 1965 by Sir Eduardo Paolozzi. Photograph The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. Courtesy The Whitechapel Art Gallery. © Trustees of the Paolozzi Foundation, licensed by DACS
But Paolozzi is more than just pop. A close friend of Mr JG Ballard, he was a visionary and a futurist, fascinated with the modern mechanised society (evident in works that looked cobbled together from machine parts) as well as what it birthed: the slick forms of mass-produced objects. As the Whitechapel exhibition demonstrates, there’s a bristling ingenuity to his work, which also incorporates brutalist sculpture, textile and design work – via Hammer Prints Ltd, a company he ran with Mr Nigel Henderson from 1954–75 – and a fascination with colour and dense pattern that deepened as he concentrated on mind-bogglingly intricate reliefs and Day-Glo screen prints in the 1970s. Also in focus at the Whitechapel is Mr Paolozzi’s approach to curating, via images of his 1986 exhibition Lost Magic Kingdoms – in which he created assemblages of ethnographic objects from the collection of the British Museum – and other works from the 1980s and 1990s that show his return to non-abstract sculpture – such as the 1995 portrait of Newton (based on an 18th-century design by Mr William Blake) that currently stands outside the British Library.
Sir Eduardo’s influence both on art and his own city ensures that the press notes that accompany the exhibition are full of ecstatic praise. Mr Daniel F Herrmann, Eisler curator and head of curatorial studies at the Whitechapel assures as that Paolozzi “was one of the most prolific, innovative and surprising artists from Britain”. Ms Justine Simons, the deputy mayor for culture and creative industries admits that this retrospective is “long overdue”. But we’ll keep it short here with a simple exhortation: don’t just go and see the Mr Hockney exhibition this February – this will be just as good.
Eduardo Paolozzi is at the Whitechapel Gallery from 16 Feb – 14 May
Colour and form
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