Drink, Create & Be Merry
As a new retrospective of the Scottish artist’s work has opened at the Whitechapel Gallery, the Edinburgh Beer Factory introduces a lager in his honour
Review by Izzy Ashton
Eduardo Paolozzi isn’t the most likely of Scottish icons. But an icon of that Bonnie land he is nonetheless. A Scottish-born son of Italian immigrants, Paolozzi is widely known as “the godfather of pop art”, having spent most of his life creating sculptures, prints and all manner of mixed media pieces of work representative of the diverse influence on, and the nature of, his life.
The Whitechapel Gallery is currently hosting a retrospective of Paolozzi’s work spanning five decades, right from the earliest sculptures to his Tottenham Court Road mosaic inspiration, his tongue-in-cheek pop art screen prints and his ghostly papier-maché-esq heads. The gallery is all mottled grey stone tiles, white walls and new smells, seemingly totally at odds with the vibrant art on display throughout the three gallery spaces.
But the gallery serves as the ideal blank canvas onto which to project the image of this brilliant and innovative artist. We are shown around the exhibition by a man whose knowledge of Paolozzi is astounding but who also knows when to leave us all to our own devices. I, for one, am a roamer when it comes to exhibitions so I appreciated his tact. The rooms flow beautifully from one to the next and up the stairs, along a short corridor and around a corner into the final space. The first room is interesting because it gives you an insight into the art of the young man, displaying the odd screen print, several shaped sculptures and a selection of eye-catching magazine covers.
It is the second room, as you peek around the corner that makes you stop and realise, that you knew Paolozzi’s work all along. Twelve screen-prints occupy an expansive cream wall, cleanly framed in white wood and all fantastically vibrant. They are pops of loud colour printed with the words of the British-Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, hanging together as a collection of “infinite variation”, a concept that Paolozzi repeatedly channelled within his work. No two prints of Paolozzi’s were ever the same but aspects of them were continually repeated.
As we wander up the stairs to the galleries above, what you realise is that, although Paolozzi’s work changed so drastically that it could seemingly have been produced by a plethora of artists, there is one consistency that remains: the shapes. It is the shapes that maintain the cohesiveness of the exhibition and it is the shapes that Paolozzi manipulates. He continually rejects the idea of an original work of art and questions it, reflecting on the contradictions and complexities in the way that people view artists and their work.
It wasn’t until the final stretch of wall, where I read the words ‘Tottenham Court Road tube station mosaic’ that I fully appreciated just how prevalent Paolozzi’s work is. The station’s mosaic is arguably one of his most famous pieces, translating everyday images of city life onto the colourful tiles adorning the walls of Tottenham Court Road tube station. If you are London dweller you will know the walls I’m talking about. And, if you’re not, make a point to catch a glimpse on a visit to the city.
Once we’d explored the world of Paolozzi’s art, we made our way across the road to get a taste of what Paolozzi lager tastes like. It is this aspect of the artist in the everyday world that the Edinburgh Beer Factory are channelling with their latest beer, brewed and named in honour of the Scottish artist. The Factory are looking for “sublime in the everyday”, a reality that somehow Paolozzi seemed to capture in almost every single one of his creations.
The beer is made from two different types of malt and it is light and fresh, a fact I’m told, is deliberate. The Edinburgh-based, family run beer company thought up the idea behind the brand in an attempt to smash the stereotypes both of what it is to be Scottish and what it is to drink beer as a woman. Created by Lyn and John Dunsmore and aided by two of their five children, the couple maintain that, without Paolozzi’s willingness to shake things up, their beer would not exist. His confidence in artistic exploration gave them, as a brand, the confidence to do something different. Out of the five people who run the business, three of these are women and so it was intentional that the brand set out to create a beer that was “accessible to both men and women”, a metrosexual beer if you will. And it is thirst-quenchingly delicious, well suited to a balmy night in the city.
The beer celebrates the unsung hero that Paolozzi was, most noticeably in Scotland where many residents still do not realise that Paolozzi was an Edinburgh boy through and through. He didn’t take his art too seriously, for he was an artist who wasn’t afraid to question and mimic both his own art and the art world he was part of. So, it feels only fitting that we drank a toast in his name, celebrating the life of a man and an artist who changed the landscape entirely.
Eduardo Paolozzi 16th February – 14th May 2017 @ The Whitechapel Gallery, 77-82 Whitechapel High Street, London E1 7QX / www.whitechapelgallery.org / 020 7522 7888 / firstname.lastname@example.org
The Edinburgh Beer Factory / www.edinburghbeerfactory.co.uk / 0131 442 4562 / email@example.com