I love Braque Curtain by Patrick Caulfield. It’s the last painting he ever did and it’s currently on display at Tate Britain. There is also an exhibition of other selected works of Patrick Caulfield on at The Approach in Bethnal Green until the 11th of December. So I thought: what better time to ask some fellow artists, art fans and critics to share their opinions and feelings on one of Britain's best artists of the last 50 years. Answering the questions are Sacha Craddock, Charles Darwent, Peter Davies, Abi Parry, Kes Richardson, Sarah Thacker, and Liesel Thomas.
Question One: David Bowie bought the 1973 painting Foyer for £36,700. If money was no object which one Caulfield painting would you like to own in your home and be able to have a proper look at whenever you wanted?
Sacha Craddock: “I would love to have any Caulfield whatsoever, but Inside a Weekend Cabin 1969, Paradise Bar 1974, After Lunch 1975, Second Glass of Whisky 1987, Grill 1988, are favourites.”
Charles Darwent: “Unambitiously, it would be a screenprint rather than a painting: Small Window (1969).”
Peter Davies: “I really like the very simple ones like Battlements 1967 or The Well 1966”
Abi Parry: “That is so classy. I had no idea. David Bowie being a fan makes so much sense. I hope I'm not being too clichéd with saying I would like to own After Lunch. I'd love to gaze at it across a room in my house. I'm not sure which room I would put it in, though. I can imagine waking up to it. The blue mesmerises me a little and there's lots of detail to study.”
Kes Richardson: “Foyer is a wonderfully odd painting and I see it just sold in the Bowie sale for £665,000. The painting Dining Recess is an old favourite. I like its simplicity and the strange, almost crepuscular tone: the darkening sky through the window against the moon-like light source that fails to illuminate the sombre interior. But I think I would prefer a later painting that plays with pictorial space, any of the large pieces in the current Approach show."
Sarah Thacker: “I’ve never really wanted paintings on my walls. I like the pilgrimage, space to view and think apart from the various drags of domesticity. Caulfield’s chimney pots actually stir some notion of ‘home’ for me, evoking the numerous terraces I grew up in... Always the same bedroom view: backyard, outhouse, chimney, chimney, chimney. These days I relish glimpses of Caulfield’s Paper Moon stained-glass window, when walking past The Ivy… If money were no object, perhaps I’d go in.”
Liesel Thomas: “Just one? That's tricky. There are many that I could happily look at every day, but if I had to choose one I think it would have to be Glass of Whisky 1987, it just seems to capture all of the elements in Caulfield's work so succinctly. The painting depicts a glass of whisky painted in a representational way, on a single colour brown backdrop with impasto work to suggest wooden panels and the dark, heavy interior of a pub. Wavy lines scraped through the paint hint at wood grain, and geometric patches of light in flat off-white balance the composition perfectly whilst describing more of the interior; a table's surface, the light from a window or door and light bouncing off the glass onto the walls. A single black angular shadow is cast from the glass. The description of light and shadow, the life sized every day object, the uninhabited room with its remnant of human presence, the theatricality, the precision of the composition; it's all there in this one piece.”
Question Two: Would you agree that a lot of Caulfield paintings have a melancholy side to them which set them apart from the more celebratory and upbeat Pop Art being made in the 1960s by artists such as Peter Blake and David Hockney? Sacha Craddock: “Yes, atmosphere, found in painting not in Pop, necessarily. Not melancholy, they represent time spent drinking, eating, and then drinking, cut off, apparently far away, but really only down stairs, in the Italian restaurant, surrounded by wallpaper, light from the fish tank, waiters waiting to go home. The structure and drawn out etiquette of a meal with alcohol makes for a parallel existence, a different relation to time. Inside, downstairs, in unnatural light, it is both day and night and each painting carries real logic but little sadness.”
Charles Darwent: “Broadly, yes: there’s a Hopper-like emptiness to many of them.”
Peter Davies: “Yes they all feel melancholy to me, and from looking at them recently I have realised he’s not really a Pop Artist and that, that is a red herring.”
Abi Parry: “Definitely. I think it's quite a British melancholy that perhaps the others lack. Caulfield captures quiet moments, I think, rather well. His works are simple but have a deepness not instantly obvious. They're a good example of everything and nothing, a world beyond the canvas and the artist's surface image. I think we all experience the same kind of moments of contemplation, After Lunch is that for me and I instantly feel a connection to it.”
Kes Richardson: “I don’t think Caulfield has a lot to do with Pop Art, Blake or Hockney. And I think there’s something more of the uncanny going on than the melancholy. Lighting from multiple sources, odd drop shadows, tricks with space, visual jokes about illusion and representation. A celebration of the history of painting and just finding his own voice."
Sarah Thacker: “The blues are still blue and I do associate Caulfield with various shades of it: Juan Gris’s suit, the darkness of it in Santa Margherita Ligure, the ambience of the restaurant in After Lunch — bright goldfish and picturesque Swiss view no balm for the downcast waiter and implicit eater. The melancholic is often sardonic though… I mean, have you seen his gravestone?”
Liesel Thomas: “Absolutely, there is an emptiness or loneliness in many of his works, they have an almost post apocalyptic feeling of abandonment, bustling public spaces, restaurants, foyers and bars alike, now uninhabited with every day objects left behind, inanimate and still. He has a fantastic way of contrasting these quiet scenes with the loud and vibrant 'pop' colours in his palette, which surprisingly heightens that sense of melancholy, in much the same way loneliness can become amplified when you live in a big city.”
Question Three: In June 2013 Tate Britain gave Caulfield a solo show which ran parallel with a solo show of Gary Hume. Did you like this coupling and appreciate getting to see two artists for the price of one or would you rather the Tate had devoted a bigger show to Caulfield and published a catalogue? And, in your opinion - Is Hume as interesting or important an artist as Caulfield? Sacha Craddock: “The Tate show of Caulfield seemed somewhat defensive. He is someone, something, each painting just brilliant, but even though we know that it was not made clear by the coupling. The strong graphic nature and quality of Caulfield has nothing to do with the outline of a Hume painting. Close but far away, one sharp the other soft.”
Charles Darwent: “I didn’t like it. Either artist as part of a broader voice, or either in monograph, would have made more sense. As it is, the show forced a dialogue that wasn’t really there. “As interesting” isn’t a useful question, I think: Hume is very interesting (especially his sculpture), but with very different ambitions.”
Peter Davies: “I would have preferred to see a bigger Caulfield show and don’t make any connection between Gary Hume and Patrick Caulfield apart from the fact they are both British artists and use/used paint, and sometimes simplify certain images.”
Abi Parry: “Yes I did appreciate the coupling, and yes I think Hume is important, personally I find his work interesting in a different way than Caulfield. I can't imagine hanging a Hume painting in my home. But I certainly make the connection between the artists and found it intriguing. It would have been nice to have a Catalogue for Caulfield and perhaps a solo show too.”
Kes Richardson: “I would have loved a bigger show of Caulfield. Just the other night my friend Shaan and I were saying how much we like Hume’s door paintings. I quite like the Tony Blackburn one too but he’s no match for Pat."
Sarah Thacker: “There’s a (shallow) formal affinity between Caulfield and Hume. But, with Hume my mind slips in the slickness; the abstract poetic expanses of Caulfield transmute into glossy vacuity in Hume.”
Liesel Thomas: “Sadly I missed the show so I'm not sure I'm qualified to comment, but I would say a full retrospective of Caulfield's work would be very welcome indeed. I can understand the Tate's decision to pair the two shows of course, when I was at art school, everyone was talking about Gary Hume, so in that respect yes I suppose he is as important an artist. I think there is a certain element of the melancholy in Hume's work too, but unlike Caulfield his work dipped a toe into the world of fashion and so he managed to reach a new and different audience.”
Question Four: Caulfield paid homage to various art heroes in his work such as George Braque and Juan Gris. In 1986, when The National Gallery asked him to select works from their collection his choices included two still life paintings by Pieter de Hooch. Some of his paintings were named after pop songs such as “In My Room” by The Beach Boys. And by reading Clarrie Wallis’s book on Caulfield we learn his favourite film was Orson Welles’s Touch of Evil and books by his bedside included Laurence Stern’s Tristram Shandy and American classics by Hemingway and Steinbeck. Do you like the people he liked? Do you approve of his choices and do you share any of his tastes?
Sacha Craddock: “I am not really concerned about the film and music he liked. He was never mad on Video art, I promise, asking me to account for that when we were both External Assessors on Chelsea MA, him Painting, me Sculpture. I would be sent in to the dark, through the curtain, report back and we would go for a drink. I like both Gris, with his front of stage surface and finish and Braque, exactly the opposite. Caulfield is a setter of surface and stage with little working out or back stage doubt allowed. His graphic sense is amazing, Prunella Clough told me about Adami, as well, in the same place as Caulfield.”
Charles Darwent: “Wow, multiple warhead questions. I like Stern, Steinbeck and de Hooch, also the Beach Boys and Braque. I don’t get Gris and deeply dislike Hemingway. But I guess you’re touching on postmodernism? I don’t think Caulfield can be pigeonholed as a postmodernist, if that’s what you’re getting at.”
Peter Davies: “I always find it curious what informs an artist, although my tastes are very different to his, and change frequently.”
Abi Parry: “Oh my god, yes! I wonder if he was a fan of Bowie? In My Room by the Beach Boys is probably my favourite song of theirs. It's easy to connect that melancholy contemplation feeling here again. Clearly his tastes were wonderful and diverse. I find it interesting that he liked Hemingway.”
Kes Richardson: “I love his portrait of Gris. The influence that keeps coming up in relation to Caulfield is Léger, who I like very much and who Caulfield liked because ‘his things were bold, not woolly, very strong, linear, figurative, but not in a kind of a representational perspective sense, but in a decorative way, without being mere decoration as it’s called."
Sarah Thacker: “Gris and de Hooch are beaut. Braque is ‘important’ yet banal if viewed en masse — deft sculpting of space but all that brown… I almost prefer him as a Fauve. I guess Caulfield got the drive to impishly play with perspective from Braque. The blank flatness jostling with trompe-l’oeil in works like Study of Roses akin to the illusionistic nail in Braque’s Violin and Palette, juxtaposed with the Cubist planes…
I’ve owned Tristram Shandy for a number of years but it remains unread and I expect will do for much time more. I suppose it’s never felt pressing enough. Hemmingway’s a lad. I say that in a vaguely fond way. The Beach Boys can be moving; I like the sentiment of In My Room but don’t quite share it. God Only Knows is overplayed but still stirs. But all these boys! Why are none of these influences women? Caulfield was taught by Prunella Clough. I like Clough. I like Clough’s auntie.”
Liesel Thomas: “I suppose Braque and Gris are firmly fixed in my mind along with Picasso and other greats from the art historical halls of fame, but I haven't given either of them much thought since Art History A-level, perhaps it's time to take another look. I've always admired Pieter de Hooch as a master of composition so it doesn't surprise me that Caulfield was a fan. I have always loved the Beach Boys - it's the 50th anniversary of Pet Sounds this year! I do tend to enjoy American classics, although my tastes are more aligned with Fante, Bukowski and Vonnegut. I also read that Caulfield once named a painting after a racehorse called Rust Never Sleeps which he was unaware was named after a Neil Young album.”
Question Five: Have you been / will you be going to the Caulfield show currently on at The Approach gallery? Are there any particular paintings in the show you were pleased to see again?
Sacha Craddock: “I have not been but I am thrilled that it is there, in the context of some good current painting. Thank you for reminding me.”
Charles Darwent: “I haven’t been, but am a Caulfield fan so will go. I don’t know what’s in the show. Generally, I’m more swept away by his works on paper; his canvases have that intentionally unpleasant shiny surface I find hard to get past.”
Peter Davies: “I have seen the show and will return. I was delighted to see all those works and especially in the particular context of The Approach. I thought it was a great show and was surprised by the size of the paintings in the main space.”
Abi Parry: “No, sadly I will not be able to. But I will definitely follow on social media and look into the gallery.”
Kes Richardson: “I was really blown away by the Approach show. I don’t know what I was expecting but those four large paintings were knockout. Caulfield talks about starting Fruit Display and The Register from a light source at the top right corner of the painting and working across from there without planning. To me they seem so cleverly composed and taut I can’t imagine that they were created in that way, but perhaps why they have more surprising compositions than earlier black outlined works that were squared up. These later works are so economical yet so generous and complex. Twisting and wrong-footing the understanding of space. It’s like he’s reinventing the laws of physics and smiling as you try and figure it all out. The pictures within pictures within pictures. The black circles in Reception seem to be nods to Bacon or Fontana, more jokes on illusion and scale. The cheeky tiger looking up under the lamp shade. The dramatic filmic shadows in Fruit Display almost feels like you’re watching one of those frozen panning Matrix shots. Just so much to enjoy."
Sarah Thacker: “I live quite close to The Approach; these questions prompted a visit to see Stillness & Drama. The wet autumnal leaves that stuck to my shoes as I traipsed over matched the colour palette of the works in the main space. I loved the cat’s impossibly long tail on the vase in Reception. I liked that I was alone in the room and these images pertained to social spaces; social spaces staged without people inciting that aforementioned melancholy. Motown music seeped through the floor as I viewed—friends and colleagues passing a boozy lunch hour in the bar below, setting-off my solitude. Yes, stillness and drama. Still lives but a drama in scale, a drama, too, in the emphatic flatness meeting forceful sensations of three-dimensionality. I enjoy being in the ‘viewing room’ of The Approach; the space structured like a James Turrell sculpture. Skyspace almost stole the show... but the radiant grooves of the light in Caulfield’s Corner Lamp have deep feeling. The drama of the works in this room is rooted in the somber grounds imposed with some high-key hue, still scenes under the scrutiny of artificial, abstracted light.”
Liesel Thomas: “I visited the show last week and was delighted to see Glass of Whiskey hanging in the office which was unexpected as it wasn't listed on the website. I particularly enjoyed the four large works in the main gallery space and thought the scale worked very well in that room.”
Question Six: What was special about Patrick Caulfield as an artist? In what way did he inspire you with his work?
Sacha Craddock: “Caulfield is a genius of atmosphere. Of place, design, heightened detail and lost corners, The Still Lifes carry a total sense of place. He merges genre to make a textured sense. In a way he is a two dimensional Mike Nelson, who makes three dimensional fact into poetic fiction.”
Charles Darwent: “His inscrutability. His work is hugely intelligent in setting on a series of fences – representation / abstraction, flatness / depth, sociability/loneliness, etc etc.”
Peter Davies: “I think Patrick Caulfield is a very important and not fully appreciated artist. I’m curious how his work has been thought of as Pop but is really about many other things (De Chirico etc). It appears simple but is actually really complex. I also like the restraint and all that is left out, and how that results in the construction of a painting, and through that a proposition as to what a painting might be.”
Abi Parry: “I don't really know how to answer this question. All I know is that I really like what he stood for and the time he lived through and shared with us in various ways. His humour and his references can be quite joyful while also making us think a bit more about the world around us.”
Kes Richardson: “It's funny, thinking about his work I've just remembered I was investigating a lot of similar concerns with a bunch of paintings I made in 2008. I guess it's his playfulness, his humour, his pictorial intelligence and his elegance."
Sarah Thacker: “Well, I’m not an artist thus don’t feel directly ‘inspired’ by him… yet I am thankful for the pregnant pauses he presents. Regarding these works has reminded me of the vital need to make time for such quiet reflection in an otherwise strained schedule...”
Liesel Thomas: “As a painter there were so many things about his work that stood out for me. His preference for painting life sized objects helps you feel part of the painting, the large pieces engulf you so you begin to inhabit those empty rooms. The way he plays with light and shadow, patches of flat light slicing through the canvas and dark shapes describing the shadows cast from absent objects, allowing your mind to fill in the gaps. I remember I was particularly inspired by the way those shadows helped to marry his two painting styles on one surface. For a while at art school I experimented with painting representational figures from photographs on flat colourful backgrounds, the dark shadows cast from the camera flash acted as outlines or shapes to anchor the figure in the empty space, hinting at the surroundings without explicitly painting them.”
I recommend the Clarrie Wallis book above which is available from Tate Britain. Big thanks to those who answered my questions.
Sacha Craddock is an independent critic and curator.
Charles Darwent is an art critic and writer currently working on a biography of Josef Albers.
Peter Davies is an artist who lives in London. He is represented by The Approach Gallery: http://theapproach.co.uk/Abi Parry is a Mother, Lover and Dreamer. www.pinterest.com/daxieloverrrKes Richardson is an artist represented by FOLD. Find out more: http://www.kesrichardson.com/Sarah Thacker is a writer studying at the Royal College of Art. She tweets @sarahthacker23
Liesel Thomas is a London based artist. Find out more about her here: www.lieselthomas.com Stillness & Drama is on at The Approach gallery until the 11th of December.