On the tiles…

One of my first abiding memories of travelling around London in the very early 1980s was seeing the mosaic tiles at the Tottenham Court Road tube station. Brightly coloured, and instantly catching the eye, I always looked out for them when travelling up to that end of Oxford Street, before emerging up West to look for records, clothes and books on any given Saturday.

I mentioned them to someone I worked with back then one day and they told me they were designed by the artist Eduardo Paolozzi, who I presumed to be an Italian gentleman.

It was only when I started to attend art exhibitions on a regular basis a year or so later and particularly ones featuring Pop Art, and noticing the occasional piece by Paolozzi in the shows, did I then become aware that he was actually from Scotland.

Born in Leith in 1924, the son of Italian immigrants, he was interned at the outbreak of the Second World War. Sadly his father, grandfather and uncle died along with over 450 other Italians when their boat ‘The Andorra Star’ which was carrying them to Canada, was sunk by a German U Boat

After studying in Edinburgh and London in the mid to late 40s, he then worked in Paris, meeting all the main art movers and shakers of that period, all of whom influenced his later work.

Back in London he became a founder member of the Independent Group and his work, among that of his contemporaries within that group finds itself acknowledged as the first influences of the later ‘Pop Art’ movement. Indeed his ‘I Was A Rich Man’s Plaything’ from 1947 is often referred to as the first artwork to use the word ‘pop’ within its collage.

The title of his 1964 series of screen prints ‘As Is When’, based on the life of philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, would be a later be acknowledged as an influence on the 2005 Paul Weller album ‘As Is Now’

Paolozzi taught all over the world in the 1960s and 1970s, taking in the Berkeley, Berlin, Munich, as well as at The Royal College of Art.

Apart from work by sculptor Henry Moore, I think I have found more ‘street art’ on the streets of London by Paolozzi than by anybody else.

Until a few years ago, I always noticed the work ‘The Artist as Hephaestus’ on High Holborn as I went past on a bus. That suddenly disappeared due to redevelopment work, but others worth checking out, include the ‘Piscator’ at Euston Station and ‘Newton after Blake’ which I see on my frequent trips to the British Library on the Euston Road.

Back to the 1984 mosaic at Tottenham Court Road. Due to extension work at the station by Crossrail in the last few years, sections of the tiles have had to have been moved or removed altogether.

Actually, when it came to restoring the original work that remained at the station, it was noticed that quite a few pieces were missing from the artworks. Art loving commuters had simply taken a few here and there as souvenirs

Awarded a CBE in 1968, he would be come Sir Eduardo Paolozzi in 1989. He died aged 81 in 2005

The Mumper of SE5