British sculptor, printmaker, and designer, born in Edinburgh of Italian parentage. He studied at Edinburgh College of Art, 1943, and the Slade School, 1944-7. While still a student he had his first one-man exhibition as a sculptor, at the Mayor Gallery, London, in 1947, and in the same year he began making witty collages using cuttings from American magazines, advertising prospectuses, technological journals, etc. (I Was a Rich Man's Plaything (Tate Gallery, London, 1947). Paolozzi regarded these collages as 'ready-made metaphors' representing the popular dreams of the masses, and they have been seen as forerunners of Pop art (he eventually amassed a large collection of 20th-century pulp literature, art, and artefacts, which he presented to the University of St Andrews). In 1947-50 he lived in Paris, where he was influenced by the legacy of Dada and Surrealism, and in the early 1950s he was a member of the Independent Group, the nursery of British Pop art.
From the 1950s Paolozzi worked primarily as an abstract or semi-abstract sculptor, often on a large scale. His work of the 1950s was characteristically heavy and bulky, often incorporating industrial components, showing his interest in technology as well as popular culture. In the 1960s his work became more colourful, including large totem-like figures made up from casts of pieces of machinery and often brightly painted. In the 1970s he made solemn machine-like forms and also box-like low reliefs, both large and small, in wood or bronze, sometimes made to hang on the wall, compartmented and filled with small items. The compartmented reliefs were sharply and precisely cut and had some resemblance to the work of Louise Nevelson. His more recent work has included several large public commissions, for example mosaic decorations for Tottenham Court Road undeground station in London (commissioned 1979, installed 1983-5) and The Wealth of Nations (installed 1993), a huge bronze sculpture 'commissioned by the Royal Bank of Scotland for a new building at South Gyle on the edge of Edinburgh. It must be the largest and most ambitious piece of public sculpture made in Britain for many years. It represents a great, fallen giant, struggling as the classical Laocoon struggled with the serpents who overpowered him, but Paolozzi's figure is struggling not with living serpents, but with the modern, abstract, mechanized shapes of the modern world of technology' ( Duncan Macmillan, Scottish Art in the 20th Century, 1994). Paolozzi taught at various art schools and universities in Britain, Europe, and the USA. He was knighted in 1989 and awarded many other honours.
A Dictionary of Twentieth-Century Art, 1999, © Ian Chilvers