Cyclops was made using the lost wax technique, a method of casting metal that probably originated in ancient Egypt around 3000 BC and which was central to Paolozzi's practice during the mid-1950s. For Paolozzi, the starting point of this process was the found-object. In a lecture at the Institute of Contemporary Art in 1958 he listed the sorts of things which found their way into his sculptures, 'Dismembered lock. Toy frog. Rubber dragon. Toy camera. Assorted wheels and electrical parts. Clock parts. Broken comb. Bent fork. Various unidentified objects. Parts of a radio. Old RAF bomb sight. Shaped pieces of wood. Natural objects such as pieces of bark. Gramophone parts. Model automobiles. Reject die castings from factory tip sites. CAR WRECKING YARDS AS HUNTING GROUNDS' (quoted in Kirkpatrick, pp.31-2). A selection of these found-objects was pressed into a clay or plaster bed and then removed, leaving a negative impression. Hot liquid wax was poured into the bed to create a malleable sheet of wax forms. Paolozzi used these sheets as the basic formal material for his sculpture, describing them as 'a DIRECTORY OF MASKS, sheets of an ALPHABET OF ELEMENTS awaiting assembly…GRAMMAR OF FORMS…DICTIONARY OF DESIGN ELEMENTS' (quoted in Kirkpatrick, p.33). They were cut or torn up and fused into a complex collage around a central core. Once this stage was complete, a mould was formed over the wax model and then heated to harden the mould and melt the wax. Bronze was then poured into the cavity. In this case, the result is the richly detailed form of Cyclops.
Paolozzi's formation of sculpture from a conglomeration of objects has been likened to the so-called fetish objects found in sub-Saharan Africa which bristle with nails. It is a comparison which Paolozzi made manifest in the Lost Magic Kingdoms exhibition which he selected for the Museum of Mankind, London in 1985. Yet his found-objects are generally the mass-produced detritus of the industrialised world. For Paolozzi the 'rational order of the technological world can be as fascinating as the fetishes of a Congo witch doctor….SCIENTIFIC PHENOMENA become SIGNIFICANT IMAGES, the ENGINE FORCE directing the construction of HELLISH MONSTERS. My occupation can be described as the ERECTION OF HOLLOW GODS with heads like an eye, the centre part like a retina' (quoted in Kirkpatrick, p.38).
The title, which refers to the tribe of one-eyed giants found in classical mythology, introduces notions of the antique and the heroic which the gold patination may serve to accentuate. But instead of the idealised figures of classical statuary, Cyclops is composed of a ragged accretion of forms occasionally punctured by holes that reveal its hollow core. The holes appeared during the casting and were not intentional, but Paolozzi liked them and left them. The impoverished state of his mythological figures has often been seen as an ironic comment on the condition of modern man.
Cyclops is well over life-size and is thought to be one of the largest heads in this style. Paolozzi gave several sculptures this name including the standing figure Cyclops (Tate T00225).
Diane Kirkpatrick, Eduardo Paolozzi, London 1970
Eduardo Paolozzi, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1971