TODAY in Edinburgh when the Queen unveils Sir Eduardo Paolozzi's
monumental bronze sculpture outside the Royal Bank of Scotland's new
Drummond House headquarters at South Gyle, she may marvel and exclaim
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but she will not have the benefit of seeing sand in its toes.
Shiny, silky, patinated, polished, glossy, and gleaming, every speck
will have been dusted away -- a high sheen sculpture truly fit for a
queen. Its title, Wealth of Nations, is imposing; so too Paolozzi's
distinguished, almost overwhelming creation with its allusions to Adam
Smith's classic about the search for noble endeavours.
''It's a sculpture that contains shadows of the past to create images
of the future,'' he explained. It also speaks for the self-confidence of
Scotland, observes Angus Grossart who, as a Royal Bank director and
chairman of the National Galleries of Scotland, commissioned the
But when I first saw this vast work of massive head, hands, and feet
(at 10 tons and measuring 20ft in height, 27ft in length, it is by far
Paolozzi's biggest sculpture), things were considerably less impeccable.
Scattered over the workshop like a giant jigsaw puzzle, numerous raw
fragments and rough-edged sections, large and small, sat ready and
waiting for a master welder, fork lift, or any number of craftsmen to
move in with tools and menacing machinery; all burners blasting,
riveters rattling, chasers chasing.
A welder was imprisoned inside the head forging the numerous cast
sections together. And there inside the toes of the two metre, 1100 cwt
foot was pale gold sand, left over from the casting process and waiting
to be carefully cleared. For this was April. I was visiting the Morris
Singer Foundry in Basingstoke where the fascinating process of
transforming Paolozzi's tiny model or maquette into bronze took place.
Singer's, established in 1848, is one of the world's leading
foundries. The Old Bailey's famous figure of Justice was made by them
and, from 1950, artists such as Hepworth, Moore, Epstein, and Paolozzi
have regularly used Singer's for their major bronzes.
Sir Eduardo Paolozzi, RA, Her Majesty's Sculptor for Scotland since
1986, is notorious for his adherence to the belief that sculpture can be
made out of anything -- rubbish found in skips, cardboard, papier mache
-- and thus need not be expensive. (Needless to say with Attali's lavish
''glistening'' European Bank debacle whistling in their ears, the Royal
Bank are not disclosing how much the sculpture cost, merely that the
price of the building is #60m, but sculpture gestimates hover around
half a million pounds.)
So although the finished work is bronze, for his maquette Paolozzi
uses tacky bits of old wood, formica, plasterboard, plywood, cork,
polystyrene -- anything to hand -- and sticks, glues, wedges it together
until it satisfies him. One problem for Singer's was that perfectionist
Paolozzi is rarely satisfied and has a habit of re-designing as he goes
along. In April various discarded maquettes for the blocks, columns, and
posts which make up the base were scattered to the four winds while yet
another permutation was tried and tested.
Trial and error extended to making a full-sized model of the sculpture
out of scaffolding on wheels and pushing it about in front of Drummond
House one windy, rainswept Sunday morning in order to find the exact
spot to site the piece.
Paolozzi's career now spans almost 50 years. Born in Leith, as a child
he developed a passion for art through collecting and drawing from
cigarette cards, pasting images into scrapbooks, and going to the
cinema. Technology has always fascinated him, a fact he attributes to
watching his father fiddle with radios in the back of his shop.
After Edinburgh College of Art and London's Slade, a sell-out show
enabled him to move to Paris in 1947. By the 1960s cool industrial
abstracts, sometimes painted in vivid primary colours, had replaced his
early rough organic forms. From the 1970s he has taught at both the
Royal College and in Germany where most of his large-scale works (like
Cologne's impressive Rhinegarten 1980 beside Museum Ludwig) can be
His first big work for Scotland was the aluminium doors for Glasgow
University's Hunterian Gallery; then, in 1991, the public sculpture at
Edinburgh's Picardy Place, in sight of his birthplace near Leith Walk.
London now has several large Paolozzi pieces including a monumental
figure of Newton (a recurring inspiration to him) at the new British
''Wealth of Nations is an amalgam of the three great themes which run
through the history of art: still life, the portrait, and the
landscape,'' says Paolozzi. It follows on from the Picardy piece but is
unusual in its juxtaposition and contrast of fine, curved traditional
realism (the hands and feet) and the abstracted head's bizarre
twentieth-century hard-edged com-
puter generated geometrics.
Paolozzi is interested in how machines affect our visual experience
and has done much work on the concept of man as dehumanised robot.
Grossart is aware of the implied analogy in the piece: technology as
enemy, competitor, friend. Technology has already transformed banking.
Will all staff soon be swept away on the technological tide? ''It's the
eternal dilemma,'' he says. ''How do we avoid technology's dominance;
how ensure that man masters progress properly; how guarantee the
essential human quality remains?'' Despite its all consuming
philosophical presence in his work, Paolozzi himself does not indulge in
gadgets -- not even an answering machine, as Grossart knows to his cost.
Bank buildings are traditionally symbols of power and wealth. Drummond
House is very big, covering several acres, and suitably handsome with
alternate sturdy horizontal slabs of rich grey slate and stone cladding
punctuated by tower or oasthouse corners. I have reservations about its
thunderous fortress quality and architecturally undistinguished
neighbours, but it's certainly a situation which should be helped by a
good piece of art. The juxtaposition of hard metallic curvilinear and
chunky bronze against the bank's substantial stone block should make for
a good marriage and create a strong image.
''From the beginning the sculpture was envisioned as a landmark
positioned to enhance and counterpoint the bank and the surrounding
landscape. Driving or walking round the sculpture will be like turning a
model in space,'' says Paolozzi. ''The surrounding hills are reflected
in the position of the figurative elements; the geometric parts mirror
the life of the building. The whole represents a strong belief in
optimism and progress.''
An exhibition showing the sculpture's evolution from small sketches on
scrap paper, via drawings and models to the completed bronze, runs
concurrently at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art.
Wealth of Nations honours the Royal Bank's 1989 commitment to
Edinburgh's Percent for Art policy. Grossart has had fun spending the
#80,000 allocated to contemporary Scottish paintings for public spaces
within the bank, whose peaceful, spacious, light interior belies its
stern exterior. Grossart has mainly selected young painters who love
His choice is quite adventurous and although he has sensibly avoided
anguish, angst, and abstracts (it is a workplace after all), new
pictures by Hazel Nagl, Dorothy Black, George Donald, Annette Edgar,
Donald Mason, Christine McArthur, and others plus Edinburgh Printmakers'
1992 portfolio provide exuberant aesthetics for the 1400 members of
staff who enjoy this state-of-the-art headquarters.
* A film about the making of Paolozzi's sculpture can be seen on
Scottish next Thursday at 7pm.