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  • Paolozzi at Large in Edinburgh: Artworks and Creative Responses ed. by Christine De Luca and Carlo Pirozzi
  • Carla Sassi
Paolozzi at Large in Edinburgh: Artworks and Creative Responses. Edited by Christine De Luca and Carlo Pirozzi. Edinburgh: Luath Press, 2018. ISBN 9781912147885. 160 pp. pbk. £15.

Eduardo Paolozzi (1924–2005) is one of the giants of Scottish (and indeed world) art of the twentieth century. Born in Leith into a working class family of Italian origin (his parents' families were both from Viticuso, in the region of Lazio, south of Rome), his first artistic steps were in his native city, where he attended the Edinburgh College of Art in 1943, before stepping into the larger world – studying, working and establishing himself in London, Paris, Germany, Japan and the US. A truly cosmopolitan and innovative mind, Paolozzi crossed borders of all kinds, re-interpreting and bridging different cultures and contexts, forging especially strong bonds with modern and contemporary German art and philosophy, and experimenting with the most disparate materials – moulding, carving and casting his sculptures in wood, plaster, metal, fiberglass and resin.

Both his Italianness and Scottishness were in many ways less an object of abstract investigation or meditation and more an expression of an emotional and experiential bond with his ancestral and birth home respectively, partly shaped on family stories that were often tragic, marked as they were by poverty, migration and the war. His intersecting identities are often honoured in his works, which are indeed always, in his words, 'the translation of experience' (p. 58). And yet, they never take an overarching role.

Christine De Luca and Carlo Pirozzi's innovative volume does not present itself either as a catalogue (even though it includes high-quality photographic reproductions of the artist's work) or as a conventional academic study. Structured in two symmetrical parts, the first focusing on twelve major artworks by Paolozzi displayed in Edinburgh, the second offering twelve contemporary virtual 'conversations' with the Scottish maestro by Royal Scottish academicians, it foregrounds a more complex, interdisciplinary approach to art criticism than that supplied by more established critical genres. The volume has no doubt many merits, the most relevant being that of offering a fresh approach to Paolozzi's work through its very structure and rationale. The method followed by the two editors seems indeed to mirror Paolozzi's own interest in the art of collage and hybrid aesthetics ('all human experience is just one big collage', as he put it [in Ann Shaw, Paolozzi Revealed (Edinburgh: Kennedy & Boyd, 2015), p. 13]) by presenting each of the twelve artworks through [End Page 209] the lens of personal commentary and memory of Vivian French (sister of Ray Watson, Paolozzi's chief assistant), an academic analysis by a scholar/critic, and a creative response in the form of a poem by Cristine De Luca, translated in Italian by Francesca Romana Paci. The collage of evaluations and impressions, fruitfully assembling different materials and 'textures' – perspectives, languages and methods – in non-hierarchical, interchangeable order, mirrors Paolozzi's collage sculptural technique, whereby, as Bill Hare points out in reference to 'Newton', the 'fragmented bodily pieces could subsequently be rearranged and reconstructed to supply an endless variety of reassembled figure compositions' (p. 41). The juxtaposition of poems and (visual) works of art may not be new – it is actually at least as ancient as Horace's Ut pictura poesis – and yet it does take here an interesting twist, with De Luca using the tools of literary thinking to investigate the artworks and to disclose their contemporaneity. Paolozzi's sculptures, for example, trigger a bitter reflection on Brexit, with the artist described as 'a man with / a talent – pan-European in scope – too big / for one country to claim or to contain' ('Thinking Ahead', p. 46), or invite a bold and tongue-in-cheek familiarity with the God of Fire – 'We could do with you in goal for Scotland: / 4 six-footers barely have your reach, your metal' ('Meeting Vulcan', p. 102).

Another merit of De Luca and Pirozzi's project is that of representing and paying homage to Paolozzi's intersecting Italo-Scottish identities by inscribing them discreetly in their project – as tesserae...


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pp. 209-211
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