Turing’s Legacy – Art: Turing Inspires the Godfather of Pop Art

Days to Centenary: 251

On a Sunday (like today) most of us who can do so like to take a break from the workaday world and, if we’re really lucky, from other mundane quotidian concerns like cleaning and shopping, to engage with life’s larger context. Some people like to get out into nature, while others like to engage in spiritual contemplation. For me there’s nothing like allowing myself to be absorbed in the arts.

Whether I watch a film, immerse myself in a book, or visit a gallery or museum, it removes me from the pettier issues of day to day life and reminds me that life can be awesome, both in the slang sense of that word (really cool, like, say the movie Inception) and in the more traditional sense (inspiring genuine awe, for instance reading William Blake and lingering over his art), sometimes at the same time (the movie Lawrence of Arabia or T.E. Lawrence’s book The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, take your pick).

All of which is a long way of bringing this blog back to the subject of Alan Turing and the arts. I’ve previously touched on the subject of sculpture, in a post on the Turing-inspired work in Guildford, and film, in the post that not only revealed (along with about a thousand tweets from everyone and their brother) that a script based on Turing’s life had been sold to Warner Brothers, but also reminded the world (on this point without any company that I’m aware of) that there was already a Turing-inspired movie with the title The Imitation Game, albeit one that is only eight minutes long (see the embedded video in the link above). And I’ll no doubt return to the arts given that there are more than 250 days left until the centenary and I still haven’t talked about the most prominent stage/screen adaptation of Turing’s life to date.

Today I want to direct your attention to the visual arts and the work of Sir Eduardo Paolozzi, who produced a series of eight images based upon or relating to the life of Alan Turing. These aren’t illustrations as such, but Turing-inspired works of imagination in a somewhat schematic pop art style (schematic here being descriptive, not pejorative), which is not surprising considering that Paolozzi is widely considered the godfather of pop art and created an image that is acknowledged to be the first true example of that form, I Was a Rich Man’s Plaything (which actually incorporates the word “pop”), below.

I Was a Rich Man's Plaything, Eduardo Paolozzi (1952)

I Was a Rich Man's Plaything, Eduardo Paolozzi (1952), Collage mounted on card support: 359 x 238 mm, Tate Collection

Paolozzi was also a founding member of the Independent Group, an assortment of artists (in various media) and critics who, among other things, are sometimes credited with introducing mass cultural objects into high art, although I would say they expanded rather than introduced this trend, given earlier work by Dadaists and Surrealists.

Paolozzi’s Turing images incorporate brightly coloured shapes, some distinguishable as objects and some not (and some seeming to be at first, but turning out on closer inspection not to be), surrounded in the border by text that appears to be from Turing’s own work. Here are two examples.

Turing Image by Paolozzi

Turing Image by Paolozzi

Turing Image by Paolozzi

Turing Image by Paolozzi

As you can see, the images range from the relatively rectilinear and mechanical (first image) to flowing shapes reminiscent of Peter Max and the animations in Yellow Submarine (the second image).

Here is an instance — as has arisen many times before and surely will many times again — where an artist has been drawn into Turing’s world. A combination of scientific genius, inestimable military service (that happens also to serve the better instincts of humanity by assisting in a victory over an evil ideology), and human drama will do that to you.

You can find commentary on the Paolozzi images on this page from Andrew Hodges’ excellent site. If you’re of a mind to, you can buy prints of thePaolozzi Turing images from Print Editions here.)

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This entry was posted in Andrew Hodges, art, Eduardo Paolozzi, Hollywood, The Imitation Game. Bookmark the permalink.

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