In 1955, after five years in which collage and drawing had been his primary interests, Paolozzi returned to sculpture; a development that coincided with his appointment to teach sculpture at St Martin's School of Art in London. The richly encrusted work he produced over the next four to five years evolved using the lost wax technique and has often been compared to the discipline of collage. For Paolozzi, the found-object was the starting point. While magazines and other mass-media publications provided the raw material for his two-dimensional collages, the sculptures were created from the physical detritus of a modern, mass-production economy. He listed some of these objects in a lecture at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, in 1958:
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. These sheets, which he described 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), were the basic formal material for his sculpture. Once he had cut up the sheets and fused them into a complex collage around a central core, a mold was formed over the wax model and heated to harden the mold and melt the wax. Bronze was then poured into the cavity. As with the other sculptures Paolozzi made using this technique, traces of the found-objects are faintly discernible in Standing Figure.
The sculpture's rough, nodulous surface is punctured in places to reveal a hollow core, most noticeably on the left side of the head where there is a large hole, and on the top of the head, which has been cut open. White residue from the casting process has been left in place deliberately. The figure itself is physically lopsided, having one leg thicker than the other, one arm missing, and a head that is disproportionately large in relation to its body. The informality of the sculpture reflects a wider crisis of figuration in art at this time, one which manifested itself in Jean Dubuffet's art brut and Francis Bacon's figurative distortions, work which Paolozzi was familiar with. For some critics, however, these figures held a significance beyond the future of figuration. For Michael Middleton, 'in a world dusted with Strontium 90' (Middleton, p.31), Paolozzi's figures 'were less horrific than touching, less menacing than pleading. They proclaim the hollowness of the awesome figurehead, not by reason of its corruption and decay (they are not corroded by natural forces) but by reason of its very nature and the blows of fate it has suffered' (Middleton, p.39).
Within the family of figurative sculptures Paolozzi made between 1955-60, Standing Figure is among a handful of unusually small works that he himself cast in a makeshift foundry set up in the back garden of Dorothy Morland's house in Hampstead, London. Morland, director of Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, had known Paolozzi since the early 1950s at least. Her son, the artist Francis Morland, helped with the casting. Most of the sculptures from this period, for example, Cyclops (Tate T00225), were much larger and were cast by professional foundries.
Michael Middleton, Eduardo Paolozzi, London 1963
Diane Kirkpatrick, Eduardo Paolozzi, London 1970, pp.19-44
Fiona Pearson, Eduardo Paolozzi, exhibition catalogue, National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh 1999, pp.32-5