The first exhibition of the year at Abbot Hall this year features the work of the British artist often considered (although not by him) to be one of the founders of “Pop Art”. It’s on until the end of March so we finally made the trip up to Kendal to see it last Saturday, three weeks before it is due to finish at the end of March.
Caulfield is well known for producing paintings and prints with simplified images of everyday objects depicted very simply with flat, un-naturalistic, colours – often dominated by a single hue – outlined with a thick black line. The picture above, Sweet Bowl (1967), which Abbot Hall have used on materials advertising the exhibition, being very typical.
The Tate website sums up his style
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 self consciously exotic and romantic themes and views of ruins and the Mediterranean.
Of the works on display this one, Pottery (1969), was one of my favourites
Although the painting is very “flat”, it someone doesn’t seem two dimensional. The varying size of the different pots and the use of different colours, seems to provide a sense of depth. And a few of the pots, the ones painted purple, have some sense of “texture” in the way the paint is applied, differently than than all the others.
Although most of the works included in the exhibition from the 1960’s were prints and paintings created in this poster like style, there were some exceptions. Vases of Flowers (1962) had been painted on board using household paints. The flower heads are realistic and appear 3 dimensional, and in some respects jar with the “flat” vases and background.
The exhibition included some later period paintings such as Hemingway never ate here from 1999, very late in his career
It’s quite different from the earlier works from the 1960’s. It’s almost Surreal in style (quite apt as the next exhibition at Abbot Hall will feature works by British Surrealists). I’m not sure that I like it. I find the colours quite muddy and I have only a limited affection for Surrealist works. They often leave me cold as, indeed, does this one.
I much prefer his flat colourful paintings and prints. Another work from 1999 which I did like, and was one of my favourites in the exhibition, was his screenprint, a take on Picasso’s “Demoiselles d’Avignon” – Les Demoiselles d’Avignon vues de derrière. The title says it all.
Caulfield has reversed Picasso’s image so that instead of viewing the women frontally, we peer at them from behind. The reversal of this image is both a visual pun on the printing process, which reverses the original design, and a verbal pun on the French word derrière, which means rear end. (Tate website)
This wasn’t my favourite of the exhibitions I’ve seen at Abbot Hall. I like the colourful poster like paintings and prints, but in a rather ephemeral way. They are pleasing to look at, but only hold interest for a short while.
On a final note, while researching Caulfield on the Interweb following the visit, I discovered a very local connection. Although was born in Acton, west London. During the second world war Caulfield’s family returned to Bolton, where his parents were born, to work at the De Havilland factory at Lostock, near Horwich and today’s Reebock Stadium, which is only 5 miles from where I live.