Andy Warhol and Eduardo Paolozzi | I want to be a machine

In 2019, the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art displayed the work of Pop Art giants Andy Warhol and Eduardo Paolozzi side-by-side, in an exhibition titled I want to be a machine.  In this blog exhibition curator Keith Hartley explores the connections and parallels between the two artists.

Andy Warhol (1928-1987) and Eduardo Paolozzi (1924-2005) were key figures in the Pop Art movement of the 1960s, enjoying huge success and popularity at the time, not just in their own countries, the USA and the UK, but abroad as well.

Both were the sons of immigrant parents, both were fascinated by popular culture from their childhood onwards and both saw the future of art benefitting from ever-increasing mechanisation, not only in the means of production, but also in the way artists saw and responded to the world about them.

It was Warhol who said in 1963: ‘I want to be a machine’, referring specifically to the anonymous, machine-like quality of the screenprinting process, to the fact that anyone could physically make the screenprints or screenprinted paintings that he conceived.

Andy Warhol, Marilyn © 2018 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Licensed by DACS, London.

It was in the early 1960s that Warhol and Paolozzi ‘discovered’ screenprinting: its technical flexibility, the ease of translating photographic images into prints and paintings and its massive conceptual implications.

It enabled them to make multiple colour variations of a single image, simply by changing the inks or paints applied to the same screen.

But, perhaps more importantly, it removed the idea of individual authorship and ‘authenticity’ from the resultant work of art, stressing the democratic (in the case of Warhol) and the universal (in the case of Paolozzi) aspect of the enterprise.

Eduardo Paolozzi Metallization of a Dream 1963 © Trustees of the Paolozzi Foundation. Licensed by DACS, London 2022.

Our exhibition followed the development of Warhol’s and Paolozzi’s work in two parallel displays. They began in the late 1940s and 1950s, when Warhol used tracing techniques to transfer images of figures he had seen in photographs into his drawings.

Paolozzi turned instead to collage, tearing images out of (usually) American magazines to create composite views of a new technological society, bristling with the latest gadgets and machines and, an altogether darker view, using bits of machines and other pieces of society’s detritus to leave their imprints on war-shattered machine idols made of bronze. 

From the 1960s on the impact of screenprinting is all-encompassing in the work of both artists. For Warhol it emphasised the photographic underpinning of his work, but allowing him also to pursue his love of colour for its own sake.

The exhibition also included an important group of specially commissioned posters by Warhol, underlining the fact that he never gave up his commercial work even after he began to make independent paintings and prints in the 1960s. There are also photographs, Polaroids and a number of Warhol’s so-called ‘stitched’ photographs, which are presented here for the first time.

For Paolozzi screenprinting allowed him to be even more experimental with his collage technique, moving images around and altering colours with ease to produce print series of great complexity. Hand in hand with this development, Paolozzi moved away from making his sculptures in bronze (a very traditional material and process) and began welding together aluminium parts – often standardised and prefabricated – to create truly modern, machine-age figures and towers.

Andy Warhol and Eduardo Paolozzi: I want to be a machine closed in June 2019.

By Keith Hartley – Chief Curator and Deputy Director of Modern and Contemporary Art at the National Galleries of Scotland, 14 November 2018