Sir Eduardo Paolozzi

Plaster Relief

1948

Not on display

Artist
Sir Eduardo Paolozzi 1924–2005
Medium
Plaster and shellac
Dimensions
Unconfirmed: 178 × 280 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Bequeathed by Eugene and Penelope Rosenberg 2015
Reference
T14303

Summary

Plaster Relief is a landscape-format wall-mounted plaster relief made in Paris in 1948. A plant head emerges from the surface of the plaster at the left side of the composition, while at the right side – and extending across the length of the relief – a leaf appears above a branching twig. The plant forms (which are also insect-like and skeletal) are represented by wire and tacks that are half submerged in the plaster. The organic forms reflect Paolozzi’s fascination with the work of Paul Klee (1879–1940) as well as the African and Oceanic fetish sculptures that he saw regularly in Paris, both in artists’ studios and in the ethnography collection of the Musée de l’Homme.

In 1948 Paolozzi modelled a number of relief sculptures in plaster, including Targets (Tate T14300), several of which took plant, marine and insect forms as their subject. Two of these were exhibited in September of that year in the second Les mains éblouies exhibition at Galerie Maeght in Paris. The development of these works coincided with Paolozzi’s discovery of D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson’s study On Growth and Form (first published 1917, second edition 1942), which stressed the physical and mechanical patterns underlying biological growth and structure. The correspondence between descriptive line and structural armature in this work is suggestive of the way biological form and mechanical engineering could be drawn together, a combination that would inform Paolozzi’s later work.

By the time Paolozzi moved to Paris at the end of 1947, where he stayed until 1949 or 1950, he had already been initiated into a surrealist worldview in which a feeling for the marvellous can be distilled from the everyday. Paolozzi had been introduced to surrealism by Nigel Henderson, a fellow student at the Slade School of Art in London, and quickly recognised the ‘convulsive beauty’ which André Breton, the founder of surrealism, saw as the effect of ‘poignant emotion caused by the thing revealed’ (André Breton, What is Surrealism?: Selected Writings, London 1978, p.162). It was in Paris – under the influence of artists and writers such as Jean Dubuffet, Max Ernst, Alberto Giacometti and Tristan Tzara – that the breadth and reach of Paolozzi’s art and its relation to popular culture took root. Encompassing plant life and funfair imagery, the organic and the machine-made, Paolozzi’s work of the period was conceived and realised through a wide range of media including drawings, sculptures, reliefs and scrapbook collages.

Further reading
Eduardo Paolozzi, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1971.
Robin Spencer (ed.), Eduardo Paolozzi: Writings and Interviews, Oxford 2000.
Judith Collins, Eduardo Paolozzi, Farnham 2014.

Andrew Wilson
January 2015

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