EDINBURGH EXPERT WALKING TOURS - BLOG
Not all of Edinburgh's historical figures belong to the dim and distant past - many notable residents have walked the streets within living memory and offer a more modern sense of Edinburgh's historical influences.
In a city noted for its literary and artistic influences, one figure had a particular impact on the world of modern art. Born on 7 March 1924, Eduardo Paolozzi was an early proponent of the Pop Art style, and may even have given the movement its name from one of his colourful early collages.
Paolozzi was born in Leith, to parents who were Italian immigrants who had settled in the city early in the twentieth century. The city today retains many of its links to these immigrant families who brought a fresh new vision of food, art, music and culture to Scotland - Paolozzi's parents ran an ice cream and confectionery shop in Leith, and many of the fish and chip shops around the city today are still family-run, while shops like the Valvona and Crolla delicatessen have become local institutions.
This isn't to say that the immigrant families were always treated well in Scotland. Notably in 1940, when Italy became a British enemy during the Second World War, many Italian men and boys across the country were forcibly detained in local internment camps, and a teenage Paolozzi spent three months in Edinburgh's Saughton prison. His fate was rather better than that of many Italian men at that time, however, who had also been detained and were being transported to an internment camp in Canada. The ship they were on, the Arandora Star, was torpedoed by German u-boats in the North Atlantic, and over 800 men perished, 446 of them Italian detainees, including Paolozzi's father and grandfather.
In 1943, Paolozzi joined Edinburgh College of Art, and later studied fine art at University College London. In Paris at the end of the 1940s Paolozzi associated with Alberto Giacometti and Georges Braque, both of whom became major figures in the world of post-war sculpture and painting.
On his return to London, Paolozzi established his studio in London's district of Chelsea, where he began a pioneering approach to assembling collages and printing. In 1952 he was a founder of the Independent Group, whose work and vision would later be a significant influence on the American pop art movement of the late 1950s and 60s. It was Paolozzi's 1947 collage of images and advertising text snipped from American magazines, entitled I Was a Rich Man's Plaything, which influenced the bold, colourful style of pop art, and prominently at the top of the piece is the word 'pop' itself.
Paolozzi was awarded a CBE in 1968, and was knighted by the Queen in 1989. He had already been appointed to the position of Queen's Sculptor in Ordinary in Scotland, a role originally created by Queen Victoria for Edinburgh artist John Steell in the 19th century, and a position currently held by another Edinburgh sculptor, Alexander Stoddart.
Paolozzi's extensive output took in a wide range of media, from sculpture and collage to print and mosaic, and some of his public artworks can be found today across the world, from the walls of London tube stations to the foyer of the British Library.
In Edinburgh you can spot some of his pieces to the east of the city centre, outside St Mary's Cathedral on Picardy Place, where huge sculptures of a foot and a hand are mounted on the pavement, entitled The Manuscript of Monte Cassino.
You can also find some of his statues in the lower levels of the National Museum of Scotland, and around the University of Edinburgh campus at King's Buildings and their central library on George Square.
Paolozzi donated much of his work and material to the National Galleries of Scotland in 1994, and in the former Dean Gallery (now named Modern Two) you can see a recreation of his studio, along with other works including a major figure of an iron giant named Vulcan who stands in the gallery's cafe.
Paolozzi died in London in 2005.
Find out more about Edinburgh's major figures of art and culture with my private city walking tours.
Edinburgh Expert Walking Tours is run by Gareth, an adopted native of Edinburgh, with over 20 years experience of living and working in the city...
Search the blog archive...
© COPYRIGHT GARETH DAVIES 2014-21