It was in 1963, just as pop art was getting famous that Andy Warhol, its trendiest advocate, told a presenter he painted the way he did because, he wanted to be a machine. It was a pronounced line and it creates a stimulating title for the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art’s invigorating juxtaposition of his work with that of the British pop artist Eduardo Paolozzi. It was in the 1960s when the world around both Warhol and Paolozzi became increasingly industrial and mechanised and emotional lives became indirectly contested and deliberated.
Taking inspiration from these shared concerns the current exhibition at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art explores the contrasting ways in which these two prominent artists situated themselves in relation to machines and the ideas around them. Using the technique of screen-printing to mechanise their own artistic practices and becoming known as protagonists of the pop art movement, Warhol and Paolozzi nonetheless investigated their comparable subject matters in very dissimilar ways with juxtaposing suppositions. The exhibition shows how Warhol and Paolozzi drew inspiration from the permeating manufactured imagery of pop culture.
Warhol was inspired by the Bauhaus movement; his screen-printing was part of a somber belief that art would unavoidably become mechanised in a society that was progressively industrialised. Even before Warhol encompassed screen-printing as the exhibition shows through a series of exceptional early drawings, he was fascinated by the idea of recurrence and duplication. He would mark pictures on the wall to generate reproductions of photographs and adverts. By means of ink on paper, he would produce indistinct imitations of his own drawings which he termed as the blotted line technique. The outcome would be ethereal images of young male and female fashion models.
When Warhol began using screen-printing to generate images of Marilyn Monroe and Jackie Kennedy his work became more pronounced. The desire to be a machine, was actually an impossible one even for Warhol. He once stated that he wanted to make works that showed no trace of having been produced by hand. Even though he managed this his art however contradicts its human creator, troubled with longing and loss.
Eduardo Paolozzi’s method was different, his work was concerned with a primitive relationship between man and machine. In his sculptures, his work relished the resemblances between the body and parts of the machine. The convoluted vein-like tubes of engines, the corporal construction of structures. There is a flawless effect of the somber perfunctory wartime in which Paolozzi grew up, engines placed in proximity with pop images of housewives and domestic extracts. This consumerist postwar society as existing in Paolozzi’s collages exists in unambiguous divergence with the primeval intricate creations in metal. Machinery is more closely connected to the physical, contradicting the illusory domain of advertisement and imagination with the adroitness of the mechanised world. Paolozzi was responding directly to the beauty he found in machine like forms and he was fascinated by the interface between humans and machines. He felt humans and machines worked symphonically since machinery was an invention of the human mind.
It has been years since Warhol and Paolozzi created their most innovative work. Both artist’s visions remain significant and mesmerising. However, mechanised we as human beings become the sophistication and intricacy of human life preoccupies and exemplifies everything we invent.
The exhibition ‘I want to be a machine’ runs from 17 November 2018 – 2 June 2019 at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art (Modern Two)