Patrick Caulfield’s work is immediately recognisable for its bold and highly original visual language, which the artist developed and honed over the course of his career. Working with the forms of ordinary domestic objects such as lampshades, vases, window panes and wine glasses, he pares down his subjects to slick and streamlined black outlines and areas of saturated colour. Lines are crisp, surfaces are impenetrably, impossibly smooth, and colours handsomely and elegantly balanced : smoky blue is paired with magnolia cream; salmon pink sits alongside grey, dense forest green with silvery grey.
Caulfield is often called a Pop artist. This was a label he resisted throughout his life, and it is easy to see why. Although his use of bold colours, industrial materials and commonplace subjects suggest a connection to works by Lichtenstein and Warhol, Caulfield’s pieces do not have the same brazenly confident vapidity as those of his colourful contemporaries. His reductive compositions are deceptively simple, and are evocative and often unexpectedly touching in their suggestion of personal narrative. Caulfield extracts specific details or moments in time from everyday life – the shapely bends of a curvaceous jug, the undisturbed surface of a body of liquid in a discarded glass – and with them creates melancholic, still scenes with the atmosphere of a stage set hours after a heated performance.
This small show coincides with Tate Britain’s exhibition of Caulfield’s monumental oil paintings, some of which are two metres high. The Alan Cristea Gallery’s range of smaller scale prints provides a more personal portrait of the late artist. Or, at least, a portrait of him as I imagine him to be – contemplative, introvert and exacting, but with a wry humour and a tendency not to take things too seriously. Whether you’re in the mood to laugh or cry, go to see Patrick Caulfield. His work has the capacity for both. (Words: Florence Ritter)