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Friday, November 25, 2016

Patrick Caulfield

The work of Patrick Caulfield. Is it Pop or is it not.
I've written a number of times on the subject of stereotyping as it has to do with artists and their work. I suppose, to some extent, we all do it, though we often give it euphemistic names such as "classifying" or "categorizing." It's a tendency artists should be aware of in their own minds if for no other reason than the fact that all too often, they are the victims of such thinking on the part of others. Unfortunately, stereotyping extends beyond just artists into the realm of art history having to do with styles, movements, and eras. When we think of Cubism we think only of Picasso. When we think of Abstract Expressionism we picture Pollock and maybe de Kooning, perhaps one or two others. If the subject is Romanticism only Gericault and Delacroix come to mind. And with Impressionism it's Monet, Pissarro, Renoir, and Degas. It seems as if our compartmentalized minds have room for only a few big names in each era. That's stereotyping, though not in the manner in which we're used to thinking.

After Lunch, 1975, Patrick Caulfield
Even though he came of age as an important British painter in the era of Pop Art, Patrick Caulfield fought all his career not to be stereotyped as a Pop artist. It was an uphill battle in that his work bears a strong resemblance to Lichtenstein's black-outlined cartoon glorifications. Caulfield's style at times is similar to that of Rosenquist, Alex Katz, and Peter Max. Moreover, his content is not far removed from that of Warhol, David Hockney, and Britain's own Pop pioneer, Richard Hamilton. Of course, Caulfield was not alone among even some of those mentioned above in wishing not to be categorize or classified in a type of art with a limited shelf-life in the first place, and one in which they had little chance of competing with the big American names in Pop.

Like David Hockney with whom he studied, Patrick Caulfield
has often been linked with the Pop Art of the early sixties; but
his work is not a study in Pop's trademark consumerism.
Patrick Joseph Caulfield was born in 1936 in the Acton section of, (west-central) London. During the war years, to escape the Blitz, Caulfield's family returned to his parents' hometown of Bolton to work at the De Havilland factory. At the age of fifteen, Caulfield secured a position as a filing clerk at Crosse & Blackwell, a food production company where he later transferred to the design studio, working on displays and carrying out menial tasks. As soon as he turned seventeen, Caulfield joined the Royal Air Force thus pre-empting the requirement for national service. In his free time, he attended evening classes at Harrow School of Art (now part of the University of Westminster).

Greece Expiring on the Ruins of Missolonghi (after Delacroix),
 1963, Patrick Caulfield, compared to Delacroix's version painted
in 1826.
After the war, Caulfield progressed to the Royal College of Art from 1960 to 1963, while also teaching at Chelsea School of Art. In 1964, he exhibited at the New Generation show at London's Whitechapel Gallery which, more than anything else, resulted in his being associated with the Pop Art movement. In the years that followed Caulfield developed a style that was completely his own. He settled on a combination of black lines and flat, vivid color, grappling experimentally with various genres of the sixties, from figure studies influenced by Juan Gris, to Cubist still-lifes. However, by the 1970s, Caulfield was in his stride with a group of huge interiors such as Café Interior: Afternoon (top-right, second image, 1973) with its playful picture-making, describing the café’s modernist table and chairs while exploring light and shadow, allowing color to display its own abstract power.

The Young Ladies of Avignon Seen from Behind, (on the right),
1999, Patrick Caulfield, as compared to Picasso's 1907 version.
This was the blueprint for what followed. The rest of Caulfield’s career, was a push-and-pull between a graphic depiction of reality and experiments with different painterly styles. Into his color-saturated interiors came photorealist depictions of landscapes or objects, trompe l’oeil wallpaper, and a flurry of expressive marks, making each painting as complex as it was absorbing. In 1987, Caulfield was nominated for the Turner Prize for his show The Artist's Eye at the National Gallery in London. In 1996 he was made a CBE (Commander of the British Empire). On May 24, 2004, a fire in a storage warehouse destroyed many works from the Saatchi collection, including three by Caulfield. He died in London in 2005 and is buried in Highgate Cemetery where his grave (below) is as distinctive as the art which inspired it.

Lest anyone miss the point.


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