The Soho Jazz Festival, 1986-2001
Regarded as the ‘Father of Pop Art’, Sir Eduardo Paolozzi (1924-2005) was one of post-war Britain’s most innovative sculptors and print-makers. Before visiting the Whitechapel Gallery’s stunning 2017 retrospective of his work, I was most familiar with Paolozzi’s Pop Art approach via the extraordinary series of mosaics he designed for Tottenham Court Road Tube station (1984). Although modified as part of the station’s recent re-fit, you can still get a sense of the original scheme which filled the underground space with vivid colour, mysterious mechanical shapes and unexpected motifs representing the local area. Back then, entering the escalators from the cramped ticket hall felt like descending into an other-worldly subterranean night club. Well, it did to me on my fairly infrequent visits to ‘TCR’ – hardened commuters would probably have preferred more space and better lighting, both now abundantly in evidence. The mosaics, though, that struck me most (and are thankfully still in-situ) depicted Jazz saxophones in a nod to nearby Denmark Street’s musical heritage and Paolozzi’s own life-long passion for the genre.
Paolozzi mosaics at TCR station before refurbishment
It was a passion which later resulted in Paolozzi’s collaboration with Peter Boizot, the owner of Pizza Express and a fellow Jazz enthusiast, to design posters for the annual Soho Jazz Festival. The resulting posters, 14 in all, reveal a mature expression of Paolozzi’s Pop Art style, bursting with life and characterised by his trademark use of collage and graphic abstraction. Yet the posters are relatively unknown today and rarely (if ever) feature in exhibitions of the artist’s work. This is perplexing, and I’d welcome additional information to add to my, admittedly sketchy, knowledge of the series.
The Soho Jazz Festival was founded in London by Boizot in 1986, with the intention of showcasing a range of artists performing at various venues in the Soho area, including Pizza Express. A noted art collector, Boizot had previously commissioned the leading lights of the British Pop Art movement, including Paolozzi, Peter Blake and Enzo Apicella, to provide artworks for his restaurants and jazz clubs. He seems to have struck up a particular friendship with Paolozzi and asked the artist to undertake the design for the Festival’s first promotional poster. According to a contemporary account, this was paid for by British Rail which used the design to promote rail travel to the Capital during the Festival and was subsequently displayed in Double Royal (40” x 25”) format at 200 stations. A smaller version (410 x 565mm), without the BR logo and lettering, was used to advertise the Festival locally. This was also produced as an open edition signed screen print in four different colourways, available at the time to buy from the organisers.
Over the next 15 years, Paolozzi designed most of the Festival’s posters, with the exception of those for 1998 when the commission was given to Enzo Apicella. The posters were printed in a variety of sizes, the most usual being c. 500 x 350/400 mm, although examples exist that are much larger.
In 1995, a very high-quality screen print version of the poster for that year was made available as a fund-raiser, although few copies appear to have been sold at the time. Printed on handmade paper in a signed and numbered edition of just 100, it must surely rank as one of Paolozzi’s rarest prints.
Paolozzi’s association with the Festival ended in 2001, and the event was wound up by Boizot in the following year. Although collected at the time, most of the surviving Soho Jazz Festival posters were preserved by Peter Boizot himself and sold with the rest of his art collection in 2011. We have a goof selection of Paolozzi’s Jazz Festival posters and signed screen prints for sale here or by clicking on the images above and below. Prices range from £75-£275.