Icarus is one of a series of bronze sculptures that Eduardo Paolozzi (1924-2005) made in the late 1950s and is currently on display at the Graves Gallery.
Considered as one of the pioneers of Pop Art, Paolozzi was born in Edinburgh to Italian parents and studied at Edinburgh College of Art in 1943.
He briefly attended the Saint Martin’s School of Art in 1944, and then studied sculpture at the Slade School of Fine Art.
The work is inspired by Greek mythology. Icarus, the son of craftsman Daedalus, escaped a tower using wings made from wax and feathers, but despite warnings from his father Icarus flew too near to the sun.
His wings melted, and he drowned in the sea.
The process of making a sculpture such as Icarus was quite lengthy.
Paolozzi sculptures were often an assemblage of materials and images, using found objects moulded into the surface to make intricate textures.
He began by pressing these objects into sheets of clay, and then covered them with wax to make flexible sheets which were used to make his model.
Paolozzi listed the junk that he’d collected to use in his sculptures in a lecture at the Institute of Contemporary Art in 1958:
“Dismembered lock. Toy frog. Rubber dragon. Toy camera. Assorted wheels and electrical parts. Clock parts. Broken comb. Bent fork. Various unidentified objects. Parts of a radio. Old RAF bomb sight. Shaped pieces of wood. Natural objects such as pieces of bark.
Gramophone parts. Model automobiles. Reject die castings from factory tip sites.”
If you look closely at Icarus, you can see fragments of similar objects in its surface. Once he had produced his model he then used the lost wax method, a technique of casting metal that originated in ancient Egypt, to create the finished work.
We recently invited a group of people with visual impairments from the Sheffield Royal Society for the Blind to have a conversation about this sculpture.
They enjoyed ‘seeing’ the work, even although for some, touch was the primary sense used to experience it.
This was a fantastic opportunity to share the collection with visitors in a new way, and we’re looking to run further sessions in the future.
Icarus is on display until June, as part a project The Kitchen Sink Too: British Art 1945-75 in Sheffield’s Collection, supported by the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art.
This period of British Art is an area of the collection that we’ve identified as being important but not fully explored.
Our hope is that this new research will allow us to find out more about these works so that we can use and display them more regularly.
Also on show in the Graves Gallery as part of this project is: Thinking on Paper: Sculptors’ Works on Paper from Museums Sheffield’s Collection 1945-75.