He's regarded as the creator of the first pop art image, whose work can be seen in public spaces around the world, including Tottenham Court Road underground station, Euston Station and the British Library.

But, surprisingly, the first major retrospective in Scottish artist Eduardo Paolozzi’s lifetime – at the Tate Gallery in 1971 – was a flop with the critics.

“He had become known as a pop artist throughout the 1960s,” says Simon Martin, curator of this major new retrospective at Chichester’s Pallant House gallery, drawing partly on the 350 pieces in the gallery’s collection, which comes eight years after the artist’s death in 2005.

“By the 1970s he was quite critical of the US and particularly the Vietnam War, so the retrospective was quite a political exhibition. People hadn’t necessarily thought of him that way, so it wasn’t so well received.

“A lot of the ideas in the exhibition were ahead of their time – there was an enormous skip for discarded sculptures, full of the works he didn’t feel had quite worked. “Fast forward to Michael Landy at the South London Gallery [in 2010], who had a skip for people to discard artworks.”

Paolozzi used to raid skips to create sculptures, finding interesting objects he could use.

“Collage isn’t just a technique using paper,” says Martin. “It’s about bringing diverse things together to create something new.

“Whether he was working in ceramics, textiles or film, collage was central to everything he did. It was the way he thought about the world – he recognised the modern world was all these different images coming to us from different places.”

His first investigations into collage were inspired by the US magazine adverts he came across in the 1940s and 1950s – which is why he is now seen as a pioneer of pop art.

“He had everything that is now associated with pop art – an interest in advertising, glamour and sex, through accessible imagery,” says Martin. “All those things you think of in pop art are there in his early works, but he was doing it before anyone else.”

Paolozzi’s early work was inspired by his post-war experiences. Having feigned madness to get discharged from the Army, Paolozzi enrolled at the Slade School, which had moved to Oxford during the war.

Pop art pioneer

“He worked as a volunteer firewatcher at the Ashmolean Museum, where he would go and draw Rembrandts,” says Martin. “He also used to cover the Pitt Rivers Museum, where he saw lots of ethnographic masks.”

He moved to Paris in 1947, where he met many of the leading surrealists of the day, including Alberto Giacometti, Jean Arp, Constantin Brâncusi, Georges Braque and Fernand Léger.

“He came back and created his own form of surrealism with his collages,” says Martin. “He thought of them as an extension of radical surrealism. “What he used seemed strange in this country. We didn’t have these extraordinary automobiles and fancy drinks that were in the US – Britain was like another world.”

Added into this was an atomic age fascination with science fiction and new technology.

The reason Pallant House has so much of his work, spreading throughout his career, is down to Paolozzi’s friend and patron, the architect Colin St John Wilson. Wilson had known the artist since 1947 and was a fellow member of The Independent Group, which was set up in the 1950s.

“Wilson bought items from Paolozzi’s first exhibition,” says Martin. “Paolozzi would often give him works.”

Included in the 150 pieces are his early sculptures, textiles and selections from his Bunk collages, featuring images from US consumer advertising.

Also on display are screenprints, ceramics for Wedgewood and the maquettes for his later public works, including his Underground station designs and a model of Newton After Blake which was commissioned for the British Library.

The exhibition also features his 12-minute film, A History Of Nothing, from 1963 and his collaborations with fellow Independent Group member Nigel Henderson.

“Paolozzi is widely celebrated as one of the leading sculptors of the post-war age, but with this exhibition we aim to present the extraordinary versatility of his approach to making art,” says Martin.

“Paolozzi memorably said that ‘all human experience is one big collage’.

“For him, collage was not just a technique but an approach to the wider culture that surrounded him: consumerism, the space race, fashion, the machine and man’s place in a changing world.”

The exhibition will be accompanied by collage works from some of Paolozzi’s contemporaries, including Ben Nicholson, John Piper, Julian Trevelyan, Paul Nash, Richard Hamilton, Peter Blake and John Stezaker.