At the heart of much of Paolozzi’s work lies a fascination with the connections between art and science and this is nowhere better illustrated than in his 12-foot bronze sculpture of 1995 which was unveiled in the courtyard of the new British Library at St Pancras in September 1997. That work was preceded by many small experimental models such as the one shown here. As Paolozzi well knew, William Blake’s famous colour print of 1795 was a satire: it mocks man’s desire to measure and rationalise by imagining Sir Isaac Newton trying to plot the immensity of the universe with a pair of compasses, while at the same time being blind to the beauties of nature. However, the sculptor saw his own work as celebrating ‘an exciting union of two British geniuses, simultaneously presenting nature and science, poetry, art and architecture - all welded, interconnected, interdependent’. He described his own Newton as ‘having a classically beautiful body ... [and sitting] on nature, using it as a base for his work ... his figure echoes the shape of rock and coral. He is part of nature.’ The architect of the new British Library, Colin St John Wilson, chose Paolozzi’s sculpture to embody the purpose of the library: the search for truth in both science and the humanities. Blake’s visionary image has thus become a national icon, though perhaps not in the way that he himself intended.
Bronze on wooden plinth
© The Paolozzi Foundation, Licensed by DACS 2020
Sir Eduardo Luigi Paolozzi CBE RA, 1924-2005
Born to Italian-Scottish parents who ran an ice cream shop in Edinburgh, Paolozzi was interned at the start of WWII as all Italians were, and subsequently lost his father, grandfather and uncle when their ship carrying Italian prisoners of war to Canada was torpedoed. Despite this tragedy, he put a great focus on his career, studying at Edinburgh College of Art and then the Slade School in London. Whilst still a student, Paolozzi was given a solo exhibition by the prestigious Mayor Gallery, setting him on a fast track to success. He then spent an influential period working in Paris, mixing with the avant-garde, in particular the Surrealists, before returning to London and setting up his studio in Chelsea.
Paolozzi is considered one of the pioneers of Pop Art in Britain, developing the movement through his collages, print, graphic work and sculpture. His early fame sprang from his inclusion in the 1952 Venice Biennale exhibition of contemporary British sculpture, which one leading critic described as the Geometry of Fear. In 1971 the Tate Gallery ran a major retrospective of the artist, when he was aged just 47, fitting recognition for someone who had returned to Venice to represent Britain at the Biennale in 1960.