Patrick Caulfield, Waddington Galleries
Four decades ago Patrick Caulfield, then a student at the Royal College of Art, found himself at the forefront of the Pop Art movement. Then, the shallowness and emptiness of his highly stylised, design-like paintings of domestic objects and environments fitted the zeitgeist, fed as it was upon the flat images produced by the mass media and consumer advertising.
As the 18 works exhibited here show, Caulfield has, in his artistic journey, travelled practically nowhere since then. Produced over a 17-year span (1985-2002), the works do betray a slight evolution from his work of the Sixties. Gone are the thick black lines that delineated objects in his paintings, but the focus on domestic objects marooned helplessly in anonymous environments remains, and what once seemed contemporary and appropriatehas long since become morbid and boring.
That Caulfield has developed so little must, in large part, be because he is so famously slow at making work — producing around four to five paintings a year. By looking at the works in chronological order it is easy to chart Caulfield’s achingly slow progress.
Reception, acrylic on canvas like all the pieces here, was produced in 1988. A large painting, it features an expansive, unvarying background of bright lemon yellow on which floats, in a near a cluster near the centre, a bunch of realistically rendered red and yellow chrysanthemums, a lamp with a black lampshade and a black and white abstract shape.
In Lounge, produced the following year, the same yellow background plays host to similar elements that have undergone only minor change. The lamp has become a small, round Chinese vase that sits beneath the silhouette of a lampshade that is in turn framed by a red abstract circle. A trail of pink flowers and a few random abstract shapes serve, depressingly, to complete the picture.
Moving on more than 10 years to Terrace, painted this year, remarkably, we find that the satanic trio of yellow background, vase and plant remains unbroken, proving, if nothing else, that virtue should be measured in degrees.
Constancy when applied sparingly is admirable but when laid on too thick becomes a vice. Admittedly, yellow is not the only colour that Caulfield uses, nor are plants and vases the only objects present in his visual universe. Brown and blue make an appearance, as do tables, pipes, and, on one particularly exciting occasion, a lobster. As it is, the presence of the crustacean serves only to taunt the viewer cruelly with intimations of another, fishier, wetter and altogether more exotic world, far, far away from Caulfield’s desperate interiors.
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