New exhibition puts Patrick Caulfield under the spotlight

PUBLISHED: 12:07 31 May 2013 | UPDATED: 12:07 31 May 2013

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Curator wants to introduce Patrick Caulfield to a wider audiencer

Discussing famous artists’ epitaphs, the painter and printmaker Patrick Caulfield was once asked what he wanted on his grave.

He replied, “dead of course” – an aspiration he made sure came true when he was laid beneath a self-designed slab of grey stone in Highgate Cemetery which spells out the word DEAD.

It’s an example of Caulfield’s – ahem – deadpan wit that is evident in his bold, vibrant artworks with their use of rich, flat colours.

Two exhibitions celebrate the work of the artist who lived in Belsize Square, Belsize Park, from the ’80s until his death in 2005.

Tate Britain mounts a retrospective of 30 works and the Alan Cristea Gallery, Cork Street, displays a selection of original prints and 11 paintings.

Born in Acton in 1936 to Irish Catholic parents, Caulfield was serving in the RAF when John Huston’s Toulouse-Lautrec biopic Moulin Rouge inspired him to take classes at Harrow School of Art.

He went on to study first at Chelsea School of Art, then at the Royal College of Art where contemporaries included David Hockney, Allen Jones and RB Kitaj.

He found fame in the mid-1960s, for his iconic paintings of modern life which radically reinvigorated traditional genres such as the still life and domestic interior.

In 1964 he was among a group of artists – including Hockney and Bridget Riley – showing at The New Generation exhibition at the Whitechapel Art Gallery, a defining moment that became associated with Pop Art.

Yet throughout his career, Caulfield consistently resisted the Pop Art tag, preferring to see himself as the inheritor of more formal traditions, from Delacroix to Cubism.

Tate exhibition curator Clarrie Wallis says while Pop Art looked to America, Caulfield’s subjects sprang from a European tradition with the artist influenced by Georges Braque, Picasso and Juan Gris.

“His subject matter is rooted much more in daily experiences, a celebration of the every day and modern life.

“He shows the world he was living in, a time of café culture when the continental was exotic and Britons started to have croissant for breakfast.

“He has an interest in still life in work that is very emotional, quite filmic and melancholy in some ways.

“Caulfield loved Edward Hopper and his paintings also have that extraordinary way that light conjures up a moment in an evocative way.”

Although few paintings show figures, Wallis points out that “human presence is articulated through objects and interiors” – the recently vacated chair or room, the drink on the bar as if its owner had just popped out.

Caulfield, a dedicated pub goer but a “shy, private man” varied his work from oil on board and acrylic on canvas to creating a window for The Ivy restaurant, costumes for Covent Garden ballets and a tapestry for the British Library.

In the ’70s his work embraced Trompe-l’oeil effects which played with ideas of reality and artifice.

The Tate show traces his highly distinctive style, focusing on his mastery of colour, graphic elegance and wit.

“He was never taken up by America as Hockney was but other artists of his generation hero-worshipped him,” says Wallis who lives in Primrose Hill.

Fan

“I am a huge Caulfield fan and think he is one of the most important post-war British painters who celebrated the exotic in the English cultural landscape. I want to introduce his work to a new and wider audience.”

Alan Cristea worked with Caulfield from the early ’70s and presents a selection of the artists’ original prints and paintings including Caulfield’s first print Ruins, commissioned in 1964 by the ICA as part of a portfolio of prints by artists such as Paolozzi and Hockney to raise awareness of screen-printing as a fine art medium.

The exhibition also features his last print, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon vues de Derriere, 1999, a tongue in cheek homage to Picasso’s famous painting.

When Cristea asked Caulfield why he had chosen the subject, he answered, “I have been haunted by that painting throughout my life and I needed to exorcise the ghost”.

n The Tate exhibition runs from June 5 to September 1. The Alan Cristea Gallery runs from June 5 to July 13.


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