Seagull and Fish concrete 82.5 cm. (32 1/2 in.) long Unique Conceived in 1946
PROVENANCE: The Artist Gifted from the above to the illustrator Enid Furlonger (1907-1989), an associate of the art critic Toni del Renzio Private Collection, U.K., where gifted from the above circa 1950s
EXHIBITED: London, Mayor Gallery, Drawings by Eduardo Paolozzi, 14 January-1 February 1947
LITERATURE: Robert Melville, Eduardo Paolozzi, in Horizon, volume XVI, September 1947, p.212 (ill.b&w) Frank Whitford, Eduardo Paolozzi (exh.cat), Tate Gallery, London, 22 September-31 October 1971, p.8 (ill.b&w) Winifried Konnertz, Eduardo Paolozzi, Dumont Buchverlag, Koln, 1984, p.25 (ill.) Lost Magic Kingdoms and Six Paper Moons from Nahuatl (exh.cat), Museum of Mankind, London, 1985, p.156 (ill.b&w)
Eduardo Paolozzi held his first exhibition of sculpture in 1947, when he was twenty-three years old. At that time he was working in cement. He came on the scene at a critical moment, for there was every sign that the pre-war avant-garde was prepared to go on revealing the beauty of the grain in choice pieces of wood and limiting the carving of stone to the sensitive portrayal of pebbles, but the slap-happy, butter-fingered, lop-sided, you-can-do-it-too look which Paolozzi gave his animal forms in cement provided many young artists with their first seductive glimpse of creative nihilism, put paid to the concept of 'truth to material'; and launched much of the talent of his generation into a furore of experiment with unorthodox materials and constructional procedures.(Robert Melville, 'Eduardo Paolozzi', Motif, No. 2, February 1959, p.61).
Seagull and Fish is one of the four known concrete sculptures Paolozzi made when he was a student at the Slade School of Fine Art in 1946. It was shown with three others in his first exhibition, held at the Mayor Gallery, Brook Street, in January 1947. The other sculptures were two versions of Horse's Head, one in red and one in white concrete, the first of which still exists in a private collection; and Blue Fisherman, also in a private collection. Bull, also of 1946, a cast of which was sold before the exhibition opened, may not have been included in the exhibition; but other three-dimensional work, including a sculpture made from paper, may also have been shown. There was no catalogue. The tradition is that Freddy Mayor was unaware that Paolozzi, who left the Slade in June 1947 for Paris, without taking his diploma, was still a student when he offered him the show.
Seagull and Fish has its origins in subjects Paolozzi observed and drew in Newhaven, on the Scottish coast, close to his native Leith, where he grew up. It would seem that the Mayor Gallery exhibition consisted of a not inconsiderable proportion of similar subjects, because although no sculpture was sold, the Mayor Gallery Archive records that seven drawings of Fisherman, fish and seagull-related subjects, sold for a gross total of £72 10s 0d, which approximates to Paolozzi's later recollection that he left for Paris with proceeds from the exhibition amounting to some £75.
Concrete, as a medium for figurative sculpture in a quasi-cubist style, began to gain ground in the 1920s. Henry Moore made several sculptures in concrete between 1929 and 1933; and the medium lent itself to the international modernist aesthetic for architecturally related sculpture of the 1930s. Paolozzi's choice of the medium, however, is unlikely to have been dictated by such concerns, but more out of practicality, and above all for its low cost. For the second half of 1946 Paolozzi did not attend the Slade, but spent his time drawing in his room at the Slade Hostel, 28 Cartwright Gardens, WC2, and making concrete sculpture in the basement.
And I remember taking a cart and going, getting all the raw materials in kind of builders' workshops which have long since been demolished, but I did all that myself in Cartwright Gardens, but not at the Slade. (Eduardo Paolozzi, National Life Story Collection: Artists' Lives (1993-5), Shelfmark L 466/17, British Library).
Paolozzi found the teaching at the Slade completely useless; as a sculptor he was largely self-taught. He owned a copy of Albert Toft's Sculpture and Modelling (1929) from which he could learn the basic techniques, such as how to make moulds and armatures. Carving was his first experience of making sculpture.
I would make kind of clay moulds and I would pour the plaster in so there would be rough cylinders and things like that, and then I would carve them to shape. That was, I invented that kind of way of doing things. (Ibid.)
For what Paolozzi called his 'unconventional sculpture' in concrete
I used to make up an iron framework for, say a seagull and fish, and just butter it on the best I could . . . and then score lines on it. (Ibid.)
The spiky iron armature, which in places pokes through the surface of Seagull and Fish, leaving a few discoloured oxidised spots of vivid orange on the surface, the obvious difficulty Paolozzi had to stabilise and join bird to fish, the striations derived from Picasso drawn in the drying concrete all of which would be considered shortcoming in academic sculpture and by his teachers at the Slade in Seagull and Fish help create its extraordinary raw energy and magisterial command of space, fully justifying its larger-than-life size.
In his review in Horizon in 1947, Robert Melville related Paolozzi's ambition to 'the unrealized potentiality which occurred in the art of Picasso round about 1930', and Paolozzi's large pen-drawings to 'the whorls of Picasso's 1938 series'; while noticing, with some surprise, their affinity with the work of Robert Colquhoun. While admitting Paolozzi's sculpture was 'rather crude in facture', Melville 'had no doubt that is the field in which his originality will find its greatest scope'; and with extraordinary prescience sensed Paolozzi's potential to create 'endlessly transformable objects with an immutable fetishistic significance . . . and [perceiving] one object at a time as a self-sufficient magic presence'.
By 1960 Paolozzi could declare that he was interested 'above all, in investigating the golden ability of the artist to achieve a metamorphosis of quite ordinary things into something wonderful and extraordinary that is neither nonsensical nor morally edifying'. (Robin Spencer, Eduardo Paolozzi, Writings and Interviews, Oxford University Press, 2000, p.88). As if to acknowledge its place at the start of his creative journey, in 1985 Paolozzi chose to illustrate Seagull and Fish opposite a photograph of an Indonesian shadow puppet of a cockerel, in the catalogue of Lost Magic Kingdoms (see Fig.1), the exhibition he selected for the British Museum from the Museum of Mankind, to demonstrate the colonisation and transmigration of objects and images between Western and non-European cultures.
We are grateful to Professor Robin Spencer for compiling this catalogue entry.