Research point: Patrick Caulfield

Find out more about Patrick Caulfield and how he uses positive and negative space, e.g. his White Ware screen prints.  Make a drawing in a similar style.

Along a Twilighted Sky, 1973, screenprint

Along a Twilighted Sky, 1973, screenprint

Born in London in 1936, Patrick Caulfield was an English painter and printmaker.  He left school at the age of fifteen, doing a series of mundane jobs, before moving on to National Service.  Whilst still serving, he took up evening classes at Harrow School of Art, going on to win a place at Chelsea School of Art in 1956 and, later, to the Royal College of Art.  His early experience focused on graphic design, and the influence of this remained evident in his work when he switched to fine art.

He gained public attention through his participation in the New Generation exhibition at the Whitechapel Art Gallery, in 1964.  It was his involvement in this exhibition, primarily, that led to him being associated with the Pop Art movement, despite his resistance to this.  In his opinion, he was a formal painter, following in the footsteps of earlier modern masters, such as Georges Braques, Juan Gris, and Fernand Léger (Oxford Art Online, 2012).  His was a highly stylised interpretation of traditional genres such as still life, interiors and landscape.

Black and White Cafe, screenprint

Black and White Cafe, screenprint

His early work was characterised by ‘flat images of objects paired with angular geometric devices or isolated against unmodulated areas of colour’ (Oxford Art Online, 2012). He strove to create a formal simplicity, ‘a paring down to essentials, and an isolation of motif that demands of the viewer contemplation without distraction’ (Guerrini, 2012).  This was achieved, in part, via the shunning of visible brushwork and the introduction of a simple black outline for his chosen objects (see Black and White Cafe, above).  ‘This was my reaction against the Englishness of English painting which so greatly valued a slightly understated, tentative figuration’ (Feaver, 2009).

Later on, his simple graphic pictures were combined with ironic use of trompe-l’oeil, such as that employed in After Lunch (see below), ‘playing to great effect with ambiguous definitions of reality and artifice’ (Oxford Art Online, 2012). The ‘mural’ appears more real than the interior it graces.

After Lunch, 1975, acrylic/photomural

After Lunch, 1975, acrylic/photomural

His work was eminently well suited to screen prints, and he used this medium regularly (see below).

And With My Eyes Bolting Toward The Unconscious, 1973, screenprint

And With My Eyes Bolting Toward The Unconscious, 1973, screenprint

In this picture, one imagines the focus is intended to be on the sea and sky – however, these are only recognisable as such due to the ‘negative space’ of the curtain.  Frequently in Caulfield’s work, negative space is given equal (or even major) prominence to that of the ‘positive space’.  Colour and outline are our only guides, as there is no graduated shading.  Space is suggested rather than explicitly described.  His economy of visual language requires the viewer to work just a little harder.  Are these scenes as simple as they appear at first glance?

In the White Ware series from 1990, the visual clues are abstracted even further.  In Arita Flask (see below), the ‘shadow’ of the vase is split into both black and dark red, momentarily confusing the eye.  The black cast shadow (if that is what it is) seems not to fit the expected shadow shape.  Object, light and shadow are depicted with equal weight, equal significance.  Again, negative space is the only indication of where this object is situated in relation to the light.  The surface on which the vase sits is only readable by virtue of the angle at which the light and shadow hit it.

Arita Flask, from the White Ware series, 1990, screenprint

Arita Flask, from the White Ware series, 1990, screenprint

‘I like very structured painting,’ Caulfield said. ‘I simply try to make a logical, a seemingly logical, space that could exist.’ (Feaver, 2005).  Whilst this may be true, it doesn’t seem to be the whole story.  Logic has its place in Caulfield’s work, but the space it creates has a lingering air of sadness.  The mundane objects occupying that space are evidence of human presence, yet it is rare to find anyone in his pictures, merely ‘the melancholy of human absence and solitude’ (Burn, 2006).  A sense of what has been left behind.

Fittingly, one of the things left behind, following his death in 2005, was Caulfield’s own self-designed headstone.  It announced the fact using undeniable logic… and negative space.

Patrick Caulfield’s headstone

Patrick Caulfield’s headstone

(N.B. I shall be posting my own drawing in Patrick Caulfield’s style in a separate post.)

References

Burn, G. (2006) Paint the town red [Online], Available at http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2006/jan/21/art1 (Accessed 11 December 2012).

Feaver, D. (2009) View Inside A Cave [Online], Available at http://collection.britishcouncil.org/whats_on/exhibition/11/15410/object/45836 (Accessed 11 December 2012).

Feaver, W. (2005) Patrick Caulfield obituary [Online], Available at http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/2005/oct/03/guardianobituaries.artsobituaries (Accessed 11 December 2012).

Guerrini, D.  (2012) Biography for Patrick Caulfield (1936-2005) [Online], Available at http://www.patrickcaulfieldprints.info/biography.php?cur=USD (Accessed 11 December 2012).

Oxford Art Online (2012) Caulfield, Patrick [Online], Available at http://www.oxfordartonline.com/subscriber/article/grove/art/T014930?q=patrick+caulfield&search=quick&pos=1&_start=1#firsthit (Accessed 10 December 20012).

searchdictionaries.com, Patrick Caulfield [Online], Available at http://www.searchdictionaries.com/?q=Patrick+Caulfield (Accessed 11 December 2012).

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