In Depth

On the Street: Eduardo Paolozzi at the Whitechapel Gallery

The artist popularised Pop Art prints but it's his sculptures that strike a chord with London pedestrians

Such is Eduardo Paolozzi's constantly morphing style, you've likely walked past his works without realising they are by the Pop Art pioneer. There's the bold and bright mosaic in Tottenham Court Road station, which this month has been restored to its former glory; the enormous, abstract sculpture Piscator, which languishes in the forecourt of Euston Station after continued disputes over ownership; and the more literal depiction of Isaac Newton that takes pride of place outside the British Library. You'll find examples of his brutalist form in the air ventilation shaft above Pimlico Tube, while his interest on the mechanical is explored in A Maximis Ad Minima in Kew Gardens and the majestic Head of Invention, which accompanied the Design Museum to its new location in Kensington.

A new chronological exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery will trace this evolution, reuniting some of his most influential pieces through his defining eras. The first section focuses on his early concrete works, which subscribed to the Brutalist aesthetic that flourished in the mid-20th century. It includes Seagull and Fish, and Blue Fisherman, two of four known sculptures made while he was a student at London's Slade School of Fine Art in 1946, brought together for the first time since his debut London exhibitions held the following year. Also on display will be examples of his textile, fashion and design works, such as the boldly pattered cocktail dress he made for fashion label Horrockses in 1953, which wouldn't look out of place on shelves today.

His experimentation with different mediums and processes carried through into the 1960s. A childhood spent working in the family sweet shop, where his father used to fix up old radios, can be seen in the playful Diana as an Engine, a gaudily coloured creation composed of mechanical parts. A similar aesthetic is expressed in pieces such as the four-metre-wide Whitworth Tapestry, and As Is When, one of the earliest examples of Pop Art printmaking in England.

The diversity of his influences are explored as the exhibition progresses, from the series of screenprints Calcium Light Night from 1974, inspired by a musical composition of the same name by Charles Ives, to an archival display of Paolozzi's celebrated 1986 exhibition at London's Museum of Mankind titled Lost Magic Kingdoms, in which he selected and arranged a variety of materials from the museum's archives. The exhibition closes with his later works from the 1980s and 90s, as he took a renewed interest in figurative art as a rejection of the conceptual art popular at the time. 

Eduardo Paolozzi is at the Whitechapel Gallery from 16 February to 14 May 2017, tickets from £10.50; whitechapelgallery.org

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