© Trustees of the Paolozzi Foundation, Licensed by DACS 2023.


Sir Eduardo Paolozzi (1924 – 2005)


162.6 CM HIGH
Accession number


Dimensions LWH 975 x 356 x 1637mm 64 Kg

Eduardo Paolozzi was born of Italian parentage in Leith, Scotland. He had grown up working after school and on weekends in the family sweet shop, where his father used to collect and fix up old radios. Amidst this earnest and hard-working environment one gets the sense that the young Paolozzi was fascinated by the colourful array of temptation that surrounded him: the comics and magazines, the sweet wrappers and no doubt the sweets themselves. The fantasti¬cally gaudy colours of Diana as an Engine I surely owe something to this environment, albeit refracted through his education and develop¬ment as a Surrealist intellectual with his eyes open to the visual lan¬guages of the day. (It is notable that in a conversation with J.G. Ballard in 1971, Paolozzi said, ‘What I like to think I’m doing is an extension of radical Surrealism.’(1))

Diana as an Engine I follows on from the exhibition ‘This is Tomorrow’, the apex of the Independent Group’s achievements, staged at the Whitechapel Art Gallery in 1956. The show consisted of twelve exhibits, each multi-disciplinary in spirit, being designed jointly by a different team comprising a painter, a sculptor, and an architect. Some exhibits showed more explicitly Constructivist and Surrealist tendencies, whilst others had a more techno-futurist feel, extrapolating contemporary trends in science fiction.(2) The future, in a world in which atomic annihilation was an ever-present possibility, was a refuge for the imagination, offering a space where the latent impulses of the present could be taken beyond their temporal and logistical limits. The country had only just come off rationing, and the incorporation of the ephemera of American mass culture raised tantalising possibilities: perhaps British culture could also be opened to the consumer urges and libidinal excitements emanating from across the Atlantic.(3) In 1952, Paolozzi had famously delivered a lecture-cum-slideshow he titled ‘bunk’, in which he played out a sequence of images drawn from a variety of sources including magazines, postcards, Modernists, adverts and tribal cultures. ‘History is bunk,’ he seemed to say, following the famous dictum of Henry Ford, and so is ‘high’ art – but that is where its meaning and significance can be found, by placing it alongside everything else from the standpoint of today.

Diana as an Engine I is a feverish but controlled fusion of form and cultural ephemera: a mélange that appears to incorporate such diverse inspirations as an American fire hydrant, a New York taxi cab lost in Vegas, a steam train, the exhaust of a convertible, a whirlygig lollypop and an early off-the-wall idea for a Dalek. And yet it feels wrong to even try to situate this work, since Paolozzi was not about to indulge in the Western habit of ordering and compartmentalising its vision. Perhaps it is better to see it as a shining totem of unbridled consumer fetish, cast within a field of mesmeric visual stimuli.


1. Paolozzi quoted in Keith Hartley, ‘Introduction’, Paolozzi (Edinburgh: National Galleries of Scotland, 1999), 9.
2. See Hal Foster, Rosalind Krauss, Yve-Alain Bois and Benjamin H. D. Buchloh, Art Since 1900: Modernism, Antimodernism, Postmodernism (London: Thames & Hudson, 2004), 385–90.
3. Anne Massey, ‘Forbidden Conversations: The Independent Group, Modernism, urban reality and American mass culture’, in Blast to Freeze: British Art in the 20th Century (Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz, 2002), 139–44.

Published in Passports British Council Collection, British Council, London 2009