Claudia Massie

The visionary art of Eduardo Paolozzi

He led the pop-art revolution and became one of Britain's favourite public artists. The National Galleries of Scotland celebrate Paolozzi's centenary

‘Take-Off’, 1950, by Eduardo Paolozzi. National Galleries of Scotland. © The Paolozzi Foundation, Licensed by DACS 2023

On 10 June 1940, a riot erupted in Edinburgh as a 2,000-strong mob swarmed the streets, hell-bent on revenge. Their targets were barbers, delis and ice cream parlours; anything or anyone Italian. Mussolini had just entered the war and the mob scented blood. The police eventually quelled the violence and the city’s more sympathetic locals helped sweep up the broken glass and mop up the spilled wine. But nearly half of the city’s 400 Italian Scots were rounded up under Winston Churchill’s order to ‘collar the lot’, and sent to internment camps. Among them was the 16-year-old Eduardo Paolozzi, who was locked up at Edinburgh’s Saughton prison.

While Paolozzi was creating pop mash-ups, Warhol was still making whimsical illustrations of shoes

It could have been worse. Paolozzi’s father, grandfather and uncle were sent to Canada on the SS Arandora Star. The ship sailed without Red Cross civilian identification and on 2 July 1940, it was torpedoed off the coast of Donegal by a German U-boat. More than 800 of the Italian, German and Jewish passengers on board drowned, including the three Paolozzi men. Survivors reported British soldiers shooting holes in lifeboats to prevent the escape of prisoners. The young Paolozzi was conscripted into the Pioneer Corps before faking schizophrenia to secure his discharge. Following a period in a mental hospital, he took up a place at the Slade School of Art in 1944 and began an astonishing career that would see him lead the British pop-art revolution and become one of the country’s favourite public artists.

To mark the centenary of his birth, the National Galleries of Scotland are celebrating Paolozzi in his home city with an exhibition of 60 works that chart his artistic evolution and celebrate his cultural impact.

Emerging from the trauma of his wartime experience into the dim world of austerity, the young Paolozzi was seduced by the Technicolor glamour of America, that entered European consciousness through the glossy magazines that he would slice into collages.

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