Sir Eduardo Luigi Paolozzi (1924 – 2005) was a Scottish sculptor and artist. He is widely considered to be one of the pioneers of pop art. Edinburgh born (Leith to be precise), Eduardo was the eldest son of Italian immigrants. In June 1940, when Italy declared war on the UK, Paolozzi was interned (along with most other Italian men in Britain). During his three-month internment at Saughton prison in Edinburgh, his father, grandfather, and uncle, who had also been detained, were among the 446 Italians who drowned when the ship carrying them to Canada, the Arandora Star, was sunk by a German U-boat. Some people seem to have an ability to withstand tragedy, somehow rise above it, and go on to achieve great things.
Paolozzi comes to mind as I waked the streets of Edinburgh the past two days with my visitors. Pounding, pounding, pounding the pavements, we pass St Mary’s Cathedral on Palmerstown Place, just off the West End. I point it out to them, but it’s a beautiful day so we keep walking, keen to take advantage of the late autumn sun. I’ve already been inside to sit and absorb the three stained glass windows that were designed by Paolozzi. To my eye, they are not obviously religious – no figures, or bible stories; instead his windows have swirling patterns, asymmetric lines, primary colours matched with pinks, azures, and shades of turquoise. When the light hits the windows, colour floods the aisle with a bleeding rainbow. I wonder the extent to which the hardship Paolozzi endured in early life fuelled his artistic drive to create beauty, to bring wonder to a flawed world.
As we walk around Edinburgh we talk. P. and S. tell me they are going to a Leonard Cohen tribute concert when they get back to Canada. It’s in Montreal next weekend. An amazing line-up of singers will gather to remember the poet singer. Cohen’s songs have lines that are brightly polished gems, as arresting as Paolozzi’s art. Cohen knew hardship, sadness, adversity: ‘There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in,’ he told us. I’m going to looks for chinks of light, they are always there, somewhere.