Born in 1924, Paolozzi was one of the most prolific and celebrated artists of the 20th century. His diverse output spanned screen prints, textiles, film, collage, ceramics, sculpture and mosaics – from the cubic Head of Invention outside London’s Design Museum and the bronze Newton in the British Library’s courtyard, to the colourful mosaic which once adorned the walls of Tottenham Court Road tube station (the mosaic was removed during refurbishment earlier this year and given Edinburgh University, where students are piecing the bulk of it back together).
Paolozzi also taught at several art schools in the UK and Germany and was knighted in 1989. He died in 2005 aged 81, after suffering a near fatal stroke in 2000.
Most of his work is now owned by the National Galleries of Scotland (he donated a substantial collection in the mid 1990s, now housed in the Dean Gallery), but his daughter Emma, a jewellery designer, has kept hundreds of sketches, sculptures, models and commissioned pieces. Some of her collection is now on display in the Mayfair branch of Paul Smith, in a temporary exhibition to co-oncide with this year’s Frieze art fair.
The display is a recreation of Paolozzi’s studio with some personal touches curated by his daughter. There are unseen sketches and prints for sale alongside Paolozzi’s famous heads and body parts; jewellery designed by Paolozzi and moulded by Emma and even some of his bronze ‘jelly mould’ sculptures. Also on display is some of Emma’s own jewellery, designed for Paul Smith and Nicole Fahri, including rams head cufflinks and silver buttons in the shape of eyes, mouths and noses. Her playful designs are inspired by the comic books and visual ephemera her father would bring home when she was a child, she says.
“Paul [Smith] asked me to create my interpretation of my father’s studio. At the beginning, we weren’t quite sure where we were going to take it, but we’ve focused on this being his daughter’s collection – half of my flat is in this room,” she adds.
At one end of the room is a pair of glass display cases filled with sketchbooks and personal items owned by Paolozzi – an issue of Private Eye, the beginnings of a photo collage, a Marks & Spencer charge card and a photograph of him having lunch with his talented model maker Ray Watson. His desk, meanwhile, is strewn with paper, scissors, glue and unfinished projects. There’s even a mug for his tea, a copy of the Radio Times (he bought two from the same newsagents every morning, says Emma) and an opened packet of McVities Digestives.
“My father had three studios in his house [in Chelsea] – two were upstairs in the same block and another one was downstairs. His assistants would set up in the ground floor in the morning, and he would potter into one of the other studios for a while, then come back and see what they were up to, then go off again to work on something else. He was always tinkering with something, reevaluating and reassessing. And then he’d stop and read for a while. He was a compulsive reader. He just had this third for anything and everything,” she adds.
Paolozzi’s thirst for knowledge and obsession with collecting is evident throughout the space – it is littered with unusual objects and visual ephemera. On one shelf, Emma points out a metal car bonnet ornament moulded in the shape of a Native American chief, which he found in the US and brought back for his studio. “He would get mildly obsessive about something and start collecting lots of it, or researching it, so suddenly it would be learning everything about car bonnets. He collapsed before computing really took hold but Google would have blown his mind,” she says.
There are also some suitcases stacked on the floor, which Paolozzi would stuff full of materials and take with him wherever he went. “He almost created a kind of travelling studio – he’d fill it with paper, scissors, glue, whatever, so he could literally just work on any surface,” she remembers. “We went to stay with a friend once in the Isle of Man for a long weekend and within hours, his bedroom looked like his studio.”
There’s an air of chaos in the busy shelves and cabinets crammed full of things – a photograph of one of his studios on display reveals a room filled from floor to ceiling with books – but Paolozzi says her father’s workspace wasn’t quite as disorganised as it seemed. “If you came in and asked him for a book on snakes, he’d know exactly where one was. He may have seemed chaotic but he was always incredibly organised in his head … like all successful people, I think, he was totally focused.”
While the Dean Gallery in Scotland also has a permanent recreation of Paolozzi’s studio on display, the installation at Paul Smith offers a more intimate (and a slightly messier) look at his working life.
The display is both a loving tribute to his career and to Emma’s relationship with her father: alongside a print which hung in his kitchen are a set of Russian dolls he bought for her as a child, and a photograph of the pair shot outside his Chelsea studio by Mariana Cook for her book Fathers & Daughters.
“It’s very personal, but I was careful about what to put in, because I wanted to respect his privacy and dignity as well. I nursed Dad for five years before he died, but I was conscious not to bring [that part of his life] into the equation,” she says.
As well as offering a glimpse of Paolozzi’s processes, the exhibition highlights his passion for working with a vast range of materials: there are instruments made for a show at a puppet museum in Munich alongside t-shirts for the Soho Jazz Festival, fabric lampshades, plates for German ceramics maker Rosenthal and an intricately carved wooden triptych, as well as dozens of sketchbooks. It’s clear from looking around that Paolozzi had a lifelong compulsion to make things – whether in textiles, wood, metal or just with a pen and paper.
“Dad loved working with raw materials, like plastic, polythene and paper,” says Paolozzi. “The wood [used to make the triptych] isn’t some world class ebony, it’s not perfectly polished – you can see the glue and the places where its splintered a bit and that’s all part of it. It’s like his drawings too: you can look at some of them and think that’s easy, I could draw those, but he just had such an imagination, such a profound sense of balance,” she adds.
It’s a loving look at a hugely influential artist, and the team at Paul Smith have created some great window displays to match.
Eduardo & Emma Paolozzi: A Celebration of Art and Life is on display at Paul Smith, 9 Albemarle Street Mayfair London United Kingdom W1S 4BL until October 24.