Though Eduardo Paolozzi is widely accepted as a foundational artist working within the realm of British pop art, his influences include surrealism and industrial media. While working in Paris in the late 1940s, Paolozzi became acquainted with a group of surrealist artists, including Alberto Giacometti (1901–1966), Jean Dubuffet (1901–1985), and Jean Arp (1886–1966). Their influence spurred Paolozzi’s interest in sculpture, specifically his use of found materials. In 1949, Paolozzi returned to Britain, settling in London, where he began teaching at the Central School of Art and Design. There, he produced much of his sculptural work, embodied by motifs of distress and affliction.
One series involved figures that had sustained damage. In Shattered Head (1956), the human form appears salvaged, either held together with bandages or reassembled from detritus. This figure, seemingly in ruins, parallels the environment of war-torn Europe at the time – involved in grueling efforts to rebuild and recover whole towns, cities, and nations after decades of destructive conflict. To produce this head, Paolozzi assembled thick sheets of casting wax, carving into it and leaving holes and empty spaces to represent damage, and then cast the resulting form in bronze. The influence of cubists such as Georges Braque (1882–1963) and Fernand Léger (1881–1955) is evident in the bust’s discordant angles. The cobbled, patchwork nature of this head and its anonymous, universal form also point toward the interconnectedness of social struggle and redevelopment that entire continents faced, along with a growing awareness of global affairs.
Eduardo Paolozzi—sculptor, collagist, printmaker, and filmmaker—is associated with the development of British Pop art; his early collages from the late 1940s and early ‘50s incorporated American magazine advertisements, paperback book covers, and scientific illustrations. The son of Italian immigrants, Paolozzi was interned for three months after Italy declared war on Britain in June of 1940. During that time his father and grandfather were also detained, then drowned when their ship to Canada was attacked by a German U-boat. Paolozzi studied at the Edinburgh College of Art (1943) and the Slade School of Fine Arts (1944–47), where he met his future Independent Group collaborators. Afterward, he worked in Paris for two years and got to know sculptors Alberto Giacometti (1901–1966) and Constantin Brancusi (1876–1957), who influenced his later work. His relationship to Surrealist artists and his rough-and-ready aesthetic vision merged with his interest in modern machinery and mass media. In the early 1960s, for example, Paolozzi expanded his sculptural techniques through his collaboration with industrial engineering firms, eventually using aluminum. Paolozzi taught at a number of art and design schools in Britain and Germany from 1949 until his retirement in 1994, the last one being the Akademie der Schönen Künste (Academy of Fine Arts) in Munich.