The mural was commissioned from Paolozzi by modernist architects Jane Drew and Edwin Maxwell Fry for the offices of their firm, Fry, Drew and Partners, in London. A photograph of the work in situ (reproduced in Kirkpatrick, p.41), shows the mural displayed on a wall in a utilitarian space. In this location the abstract forms of the collage mirror the haphazard ‘collage’ created by the typical paper paraphernalia of the office environment: strewn documents, manuals and signs pinned to a noticeboard. In the autumn of 1952, Paolozzi decorated a ceiling of the offices of civil engineer Ronald Jenkins in Charlotte Street, London, with a screen-printed design, and allowed the decorators to put up the rolls of paper randomly.
Known particularly as a sculptor, Paolozzi nevertheless made collage an integral component of his output throughout his career. In an early work in this medium, Fisherman and Wife 1946 (T00274), Paolozzi used coloured paper and ink to represent two crude figures in a composition evocative of Cubism. He began seriously working in collage when he was living in Paris in the late 1940s (he registered at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in 1947 and stayed in Paris until 1949). Paolozzi’s works in this medium were influenced by the torn paper collages of Jean Arp (1886–1966), founder member of the Dada movement in Zurich, whom he would meet in Paris in 1948, and the work of German artist Kurt Schwitters
(1887–1948), who had pioneered new techniques of collage from 1918.
By the early 1950s, Paolozzi was developing the medium in different directions. Dating from around the same time as Collage Mural is the much smaller photocollage Untitled (Study for Parallel of Life and Art) 1952 (T12444), a work that Paolozzi produced in collaboration with the artist Nigel Henderson (1917–85). This collage was made during the conception of the exhibition Parallel of Life and Art, staged at the Institute of Contemporary Art, London, in 1953, and in which Henderson and Paolozzi were involved as organisers. In this work, Paolozzi placed together small photographs of his own sculptures and reliefs in plaster and terracotta, decorated with abstract designs, which evoke in miniature the type of patterning found in Collage Mural. In Man’s Head (T00293), from 1952-3, Paolozzi’s deploys similar patterning but in a different way. Using a combination of ink, gouache and chalk on paper, Paolozzi fills the outline of an abstracted head with a variation on the loose, all-over design he uses in the larger mural.
With Collage 1953 (National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh) (reproduced in Pearson, p.25, fig.21) the artist combined fragments of printed material with scraps of his own images, hand-drawn and printed elements, which he placed together in a frieze-like design. However, in the slightly earlier Collage Mural Paolozzi has entirely dispensed with printed ephemera from popular culture, and used only painted and silkscreen printed elements to create its geometric, abstract pattern. Returning to London from Paris in 1949, Paolozzi took a post at the Central School of Arts and Crafts teaching textile design, where he stayed until 1955. During this period he experimented with producing silkscreen prints of drawings and it is likely that he produced the silkscreen-printed components of Collage Mural at the Central School. Paolozzi’s interests in printmaking and design were, in 1954, directed into a formal creative partnership with Nigel Henderson when they set up Hammer Prints, a decorative arts company which produced boldly-designed ceramics, wallpaper and textiles.
Diane Kirkpatrick, Eduardo Paolozzi, London 1970, reproduced p.41.
Fiona Pearson, Paolozzi, National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh 1999.
Robin Spencer, ed., Eduardo Paolozzi: Writings and Interviews, Oxford, 2000.