A 1935 poem, On This Island, by W. H. Auden (1907-1973), inspired a song cycle of the same title by English composer Benjamin Britten (1913-1976). As a student at the Slade School of Art, Eduardo Paolozzi owned records of Britten's music and a volume of Auden's poetry. Years later, poet and composer were reunited in Paolozzi's relief sculpture On This Island commissioned in 1985-1986 for the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre in central London. Originating from an alphabet of shapes, the construction of Paolozzi's sculpture suggests different visual images, from industrial machinery to musical notation. From the 1970s on, Paolozzi was fascinated by the depiction of abstract musical concepts. He likened On This Island's repetition of forms and spaces to musical sounds and pauses. Marrying together seeing and listening, he distilled both acts into an inseparable experience.
Born in Leith, Scotland, to Italian parents, Paolozzi helped in the family's ice cream parlour as a child. An avid interest in collecting magazine cuttings of popular cultural icons in scrapbooks sparked his early artistic development. After studying at Edinburgh College of Art and the Slade in the 1940s, he lived in Paris, meeting the city's avant-garde. By the 1960s he had exhibited internationally and became widely regarded as the innovator of British Pop Art. In the last decades of his career, Paolozzi enjoyed international acclaim for an imaginative range of public and private commissions. Highlights included wall mosaics for Tottenham Court Road Underground Station (1980-1985) and the sculpture of Sir Isaac Newton for the British Library (1994-1997).
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