A Father of Pop Art
There are many reasons to love London. One of them is getting off the tube on the West bound platform of the Central Line at Tottenham Court Road. Here in full technicolour is the magnificent platform length pop art mural by Sir Eduardo Paolozzi. But we Londoners also know that outside the British Library his Newton ponders, and his works adorn Kew Gardens and the newly opened Design Museum. At the moment there is a major exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery. For the flaneur well placed for an après gallerie Brick Lane curry.
Eduardo (1924-2008)was born in Leith, Edinburgh’s port where his father ran an ice cream shop. Educated at St Martins and Slade very quickly after the war he becomes one of the fathers of Pop Art. Good ideas have many fathers, bad ideas have none, and Pop Art is a very good idea. But Paolozzi with his international influences(France, Germany,USA) ,his interest in the industrial and the abstract was so much more. Not least he had a sense of humour which many in Pop Art leave disastrously at the door. At Whitechapel there is a pile of ingots each stamped F*ART. Prodigous, prolific, joyous and fun, Eduardo my kinda artist.
But this exhibition reminded me of one of the War’s lesser known tragedies. Italians working in Britain shafted by the Germans. This is not some post Brexit joke but part of the Paolozzi story. When Italy declared War on Britain in 1940 the Italian community was considered enemy alien and interred. And shipped to Canada. The Blue Star converted liner, Arandora, set off from Liverpool with 734 Italians,479 Germans and about 800 military and crew ,bound for Newfoundland.
At 4am,July 2 1940 the U boat struck. It only took one torpedo but the ship was soon sinking. Ten life boats and 45 life raft were used.But panic set in. The Germans and Italians started fighting. The Italians many of them ice cream vendors, cooks, deli owners,waiters were petrified. Many refused to jump off the ship to reach the life rafts. Whatever, of the 800 who died 470 were Italians, among them Paolozzi’s grandfather, father and uncle.
Eduardo was knighted in 1989,his dad would have been proud. As no doubt would the mob who in 1940 sacked the family ice cream shop.