Patrick Caulfield (1936–2005)
English painter and printmaker. From the 1960s, Caulfield has been known for his iconic and vibrant paintings of modern life that reinvigorated traditional artistic genres such as the still life.
Patrick Caulfield was born in west London. He began his studies in 1956 at Chelsea School of Art, London, continuing at the Royal College of Art (1960–63), one year below the students identified as originators of Pop art. Patrick Caulfield came to prominence in the mid-1960s after studying at the Royal College of Art where fellow students included David Hockney. From the 1960s his paintings are characterised by flat areas of colour with objects defined by simple outlines.
Through his participation in the defining The New Generation exhibition at the Whitechapel Art Gallery in 1964, he became associated with Pop Art. However he resisted this label throughout his career, instead preferring to see himself as a ‘formal artist’ and an inheritor of painting traditions from Modern Masters such as Georges Braque, Juan Gris and Fernand Léger who influenced his composition and choice of subject matter.
In the early 1960s Caulfield’s painting was characterised by flat images of objects paired with angular geometric devices or isolated against unmodulated areas of colour. He adopted the anonymous technique of the sign painter, dispensing with visible brushwork and distracting detail and simplifying the representation of objects to a basic black outline in order to present ordinary images as emblems of a mysterious reality. He deliberately chose subjects that seemed hackneyed or ambiguous in time: not only traditional genres but selfconsciously exotic and romantic themes and views of ruins and the Mediterranean.
See for example:
- Portrait of Juan Gris 1963 (Pallant House Gallery, Chichester)
- Still Life with Dagger 1963 (Tate)
- Pottery 1969 : View the Tate page for this artwork
- Bend in the Road 1967 (Collection of the Museé national d’historie et d’art, Luxembourg)
In the 1970s he began to combine different artistic styles including trompe l’oeil to create highly complex paintings that play with definitions of reality and artifice. This coincided with a subtle shift in subject matter to topics that directly engaged with the contemporary social landscape and the representation of modern life. Such approaches remained his practice for the rest of his career.
See for example:
- After Lunch 1975 (Tate) features a photorealist image of the Château de Chillon hanging in a restaurant interior that is depicted in simple black outlines against a flat, two-toned background.
- Tandoori Restaurant 1971 (WAVE Wolverhampton Art Gallery)
Gradually Caulfield’s attention shifted to the architectural elements to which he had earlier made isolated reference. Caulfield began to insert highly detailed passages in the manner of Photorealism into his characteristically stylised idiom, playing to great effect with ambiguous definitions of reality and artifice. Always a slow and exacting worker, he sustained a high level of pictorial invention. During the 1980s he again turned to a more stripped-down aesthetic, particularly in large paintings in which the precise disposition of only a few identifiable elements miraculously transforms an ostensibly abstract picture through the creation of a vivid sense of place.
- Interior with a Picture 1985–6 (Tate)
- Bishops 2004 (Private collection, London)
Major exhibitions during his lifetime included retrospectives at Walker Art Gallery Liverpool and Tate (both 1981), Serpentine (1992–3) and Hayward Gallery (1999). In 1993 he was elected a Royal Academician.