‘I Want to be a Machine’: The Mechanic Art of Eduardo Paolozzi

By Freya Thomas, English Literature First Year.

The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art is currently holding an exhibition titled ‘I want to be a machine’, which features the work of leading American pop artist Andy Warhol alongside the lesser-known work of Eduardo Paolozzi.

National Galleries Scotland’s Introduction to Paolozzi.

Born in March 1924 in Leith to Italian immigrant parents, Eduardo Paolozzi was brought up in Edinburgh during the war. He subsequently studied at art schools both within Edinburgh and in London, culminating in a move to Paris where he aimed to live and work. The influence of many of the surrealist and cubist European artists that he became acquainted with in the city, most notably Alberto Giacometti, can be felt in much of his later work; surrealism is interlaced in a unique and innovative way with aspects of modern machinery and popular culture.

In 1952, having moved back to London, Paolozzi founded the Independent Group, ‘a radical group of young artists, writers and critics who met […] in London in the 1950s, and challenged the modernist (and as they saw it elitist) culture dominant at that time, in order to make it more inclusive of popular culture’ (Tate). The work of this group is often seen as being responsible for the first expressions of pop art, and as the precursor to the pop art movement.

You may recognise Paolozzi’s Sculpture from near Pimlico Station, London. Used in line with the Creative Commons Act, with credit to the original source.

Much of Paolozzi’s work, particularly those works shown in the Edinburgh-based exhibition, explore the relationship between man and machine. Paolozzi blurs the lines between the human and the robotic in his art, using fragments of machinery to form humanoid sculptures such as St. Sebastianand creating screen-prints such as Automobile Head, which explores ‘the way that machine technology might usurp biological functions’ in its depiction of a mechanical mind. The more you look at these works the more your understanding and explanation of them wavers: is the human being merely assembled from the machine, or does the machine take its vitality from its close resemblance to the human?

Paolozzi’s extensive collage work in the late 1940s also explored this relationship between humans and machinery in a lighter way, using glamorised pictures of gadgets and technology from contemporary magazines to underline the materialistic nature of modern society. Some of these collages, shown in the ‘I want to be a machine’ exhibition, were to become a vital source of material for the Pop Art movement that emerged in subsequent years. 

Photo by Freya Thomas.

The free exhibition is on until June 2nd, but even if you miss it you can still see a number of Paolozzi’s works in the gallery’s permanent collection, enjoy a coffee under Paolozzi’s 7.3-meter-high steel Vulcan in the foyer, and admire the ‘Paolozzi workshop’, a room filled with Paolozzi’s donated work and tools in artist-studio style.

“I suppose I am interested, above all, in investigating the golden ability of the artist to achieve a metamorphosis of quite ordinary things into something wonderful and extraordinary.”

– Eduardo Paolozzi, The Art Story

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