Paris Bird is a small abstract bronze sculpture by the British artist Eduardo Paolozzi consisting of four curved forms on a T-shaped support that itself rests on a rectangular base. The long horizontal bar of the support bears a concave form resembling a half-sphere at one end and a flat disk perforated with six holes at the other end. Part-way along the horizontal bar, between the disk and half-sphere but slightly closer to the latter, are two broadly semicircular shapes, one positioned pointing upward from the bar and the other pointing downward so that its tip hovers just above the rectangular base. These two semicircles resemble bird wings or propeller blades: one side of each is relatively straight and the other gently curved. The upper one is smaller and is perforated by two uneven holes, while the larger, thicker ‘wing’ below it has a rougher surface that is pierced by three holes. The perpendicular strut of the T-shape, which connects the horizontal bar to the small base beneath, features the stamped inscription ‘3/6 EDUARDO PAOLOZZI’, indicating that this work is number three in an edition of six. The bronze has a dark brown patina and a slightly shiny appearance.
The initial clay and plaster versions of this sculpture were made in 1948–9 in Paolozzi’s studio at 16 rue Visconti on the Île St Louis, Paris, but this bronze was cast in London. Paolozzi had come to live and work in Paris in 1947 after abandoning his studies at the Slade School of Art in London, and had used the proceeds from his exhibition of painted concrete sculptures at the Mayor Gallery in London in 1947 to fund his move. He returned to London in 1949 to teach at the Central School of Art and Design. Paris Bird was one of Paolozzi’s first metal sculptures, although like others that he created during this period it was initially made in clay and plaster for reasons of economy, before being cast in gunmetal and then bronze. The main shapes in the work were cast from items that Paolozzi found in his studio, and areas of graining visible on the surface of the bronze suggest that some of these objects were wooden. A photograph of a plaster maquette for the work shows that Paolozzi experimented with the form of the sculpture, as the perforated disk was not included in the preparatory work (see Konnertz 1984, p.53, reproduced fig.90).
The title indicates the sculpture’s place of production and its subject, encouraging the viewer to see the vertically oriented semicircles as wings, while the convex form may represent a beak. However, the object could also echo the form of another, inorganic type of ‘bird’ – a metal flying machine, replete with propellers or mechanical wings on a rigid T-shaped framework. In 1949, while still in Paris, Paolozzi produced a further sculpture of the subject known simply as Bird (Tate T06954), which is more organic in appearance than Paris Bird, if no less abstract. In other sculptures Paolozzi made around the time that he produced Paris Bird, including Two Forms on a Rod 1948–9, cast c.1961 (Tate T00456) and Forms on a Bow 1949 (Tate T00227), he began to pierce the shapes with a horizontal bar and present them as if suspended from it. Like Paris Bird, these are reminiscent of the biomorphic sculptures that the Swiss surrealist Alberto Giacometti made in Paris in the 1920s, and it is known that Paolozzi invited Giacometti to his studio to see these works. The art historian Winfried Konnertz has compared Two Forms on a Rod to Giacometti’s Homme et Femme 1928–9 (Centre Pompidou, Paris) and has described Paolozzi’s 1948–9 sculptures as ‘results of experiments that arise in dealing with the work of Giacometti in particular’ (Konnertz 1984, pp.54–6).
Giacometti was one of many surrealist artists Paolozzi met in Paris, alongside the German artist and writer Max Ernst and the French dada artist Marcel Duchamp. The use of found objects as the basis for Paris Bird reflects Paolozzi’s interest in these artists’ collages and readymades, even though he chose to cast this work in the more traditional and less ephemeral sculptural material of bronze. Paolozzi had a lifelong interest in collage; he started making scrapbooks in his childhood, and they became central to his practice, with his work in collage throughout the 1940s often featuring aeroplanes, cars and other machines. He was a founding member of the Independent Group, a club of artists, architects and thinkers who from 1952 met at the Institute for Contemporary Art (ICA) in London to discuss the inclusion of mass culture in contemporary art. In 1953 the Group organised the exhibition Parallel of Life and Art at the ICA, which combined technological and natural imagery in a manner reminiscent of this sculpture.
Eduardo Paolozzi, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1971, p.10, reproduced p.11.
Winfried Konnertz, Eduardo Paolozzi, Cologne 1984, pp.53–4, reproduced fig.91, maquette reproduced fig.90.
Fiona Pearson, Paolozzi, exhibition catalogue, National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh 1999, p.20, reproduced fig.15, pl.18.
Supported by Christie’s.