Research point: Patrick Caulfield

Patrick Caulfield (British painter and print maker 1936-2005)

Find out more about Patrick Caulfield and how he uses positive and negative space, for example in his ‘White Ware’ screen prints.

Caulfield’s paintings and screen prints are characterised by the use of strong, simple outlines and flat areas of vibrant colour. These are commercial techniques similar to those used by sign painters. He painted still life and interior scenes depicting the clean lines of modern homes. Although striking, many of his pictures have a homely, domestic feel perhaps because of the familiar, unchallenging nature of the objects (vases, glasses, bowls, jugs, kitchen tools and ingredients).

The confident and imaginative use of negative space contributes a great deal to Caulfield’s paintings and prints. The backgrounds (the negative space around the object) are as integral to his pictures as the objects (positive space). Sometimes it feels like the background is the object. At other times background and object seem to merge. See Evening Menu (1975).

Areas of photorealism appear in some of his paintings and have particular impact because of the stark contrast with the surrounding simplified imagery. See After Lunch (1975).

Caulfield’s studies began in 1956 at the Chelsea School of Art, London and he moved on to the Royal College of Art (1960–63) where he studied alongside David Hockney.

He was resistant to the almost inevitable ‘pop art’ label and preferred to be thought of as a formal artist. He was influenced by Cubists Georges Braque, Juan Gris, and Fernand Léger. It’s interesting to see how Caulfield’s stylised objects and backgrounds echo those in Léger’s work, such as Still Life with a Beer Mug (1921-2)

A chronological look at Caulfield’s work showed a progression that surprised me. The simplified, stylised images in his earlier work in the 1960s became more complicated from about 1974 with the addition of intricate backgrounds and shadow patterns. Then, from about 1980 he returns to a highly simplified approach, often using single, isolated objects.

Some of Caulfield's 'White Ware' screen prints

Some of Caulfield’s ‘White Ware’ screen prints created in the 1990s

Caulfield’s ‘White Ware’ pictures are a series of eight screen prints created in the 1990s and possibly a personal landmark in the process of simplification of line and form. The objects (vases and lamps) are plain and flat and the colour palette consists of just two colours plus white. This simple approach is invigorated by the bold use of negative space and a playfulness with light, shadow and reflected light. The interpretation is not always entirely literal. We see reflected light but we’re not sure what it is bouncing off and beams of light are interrupted by shadows in places where we might not expect them.

Caulfield was nominated for the Turner Prize in 1987. He died of cancer in 2005 aged 69. An exhibition of his work is currently on at Tate Britain.

Tate –
Guardian newspaper –

Also see
Drawing in the style of Patrick Caulfield


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