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Paolozzi's giant puzzle

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 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 sculpture.

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 found.

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 Library.

''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 colour.

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.

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