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People > Scottish Artists > Eduardo Paolozzi

Notable Scots: Artists

Eduardo Paolozzi (1924-2005):

"Eduardo Paolozzi was one of Scotland's true international icons. He was an artistic colossus..."
~ Patricia Ferguson, Scotland's Cultural Minister 1

I was a Rich Man’s Plaything
I was a Rich Man’s Plaything

Paolozzi, Britain's most dominant post-war artist, was born in Leith to Italian immigrant parents. As a child he worked in his family's ice cream shop, where the customers gave him their cigarette cards, which featured pictures of aircraft, submarines, and Hollywood stars. His collection of cards became an impetus for his artistic career: he loved sketching the intricate machinery detailed in the pictures. He collected these cards, along with advertisements and pictures from magazines, and pasted them to the inside of his wardrobe doors to create his first collages.

To Paolozzi, the collage served as a "ready-made metaphor", capable of representing the popular dreams of the masses 2. It was a visual investigation of imagination and humour juxtaposed within the modern, fragmented world, full of contradiction, anxiety, and fancy. His seminal collage, I was a Rich Man's Plaything (1947), is considered to be the earliest standard bearer of the Pop Art movement.

Paolozzi briefly studied at the Edinburgh College of Art before moving on to London, where he made his first solo exhibition at the Mayor Gallery in 1947. Using the proceeds from the exhibition, he moved to Paris later that year. He developed his style under the influence of Surrealists and Dadaists such as Giacometti, Arp, Léger, Brancusi, and Dubuffet. After his return to London in 1949, he set up a workshop studio in Chelsea, filling it with found objects, machinery, toys, tools, books, and an array of other materials he used in his art.

Newton’s discoveries
Newton’s discoveries

Paolozzi made a name for himself as a sculptor with his bronzed heads and human figures encrusted with impressions of nuts, bolts, bits of toys, and other junk collected from scrap-yards and Dumpsters. His figures were at once horrific, pathetic, and comical; touching on the existential angst common throughout post-war Europe, they launched Paolozzi's mainstream career. The search for an aesthetic to mirror the wide range of disparate ideas and contradictions - the weighty and the trivial, the artistic and the technological, the human and the mechanical - culminated in the Pop Art movement of the mid 1950s.

Paolozzi was named an Officer of the British Empire (OBE) in 1968, and elected to the Royal Academy in 1979. In 1986 he was promoted to the office of Her Majesty's Sculptor in Ordinary for Scotland, a position he held until his death. He was knighted in 1989 and made a Knight Commander of the British Empire (KBE). In 1994 he donated a large body of his work and the contents of his studio to the National Galleries of Scotland. He was confined to a wheelchair after a near-fatal stroke suffered in 2001, and died in 2005.

  1. Patricia Ferguson quoted in Pop artist Paolozzi dies aged 81. BBC News. 22 April 2005.
  2. Robert Chaundry, Obituary: Sir Eduardo Paolozzi. BBC News. 22 April 2005.
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