By the time the current work was executed, Caulfield’s long-favoured descriptive device of a black outline had been disregarded. Instead, simple planes of colour relay the subject. The framework and glass of the lantern are described by even blocks of colour, against the dark grey of night. The light and shadow cast by the lantern are not realistically depicted and are as much a feature of the composition as the lantern itself. This preoccupation with the depiction of light and shadow, characterised Caulfield’s work of the 1980s and 1990s. Speaking to Marco Livingstone in the early 1980s, the artist explained: ‘Once I got on to shadows, I really went to town; they became compositional elements, in fact more than the objects that the shadows came from. They’re all silhouettes. You accept them as shadows, but they’re not at all as shadows would be.’ (Patrick Caulfield quoted in Marco Livingstone, Patrick Caulfield: Paintings, Lund Humphries, London 2005, p.86, note 50). He continued: ‘I’m not actually painting from observation of light, I’m making up an idea of how light could appear to be. The angles of light in naturalistic terms could be totally wrong, but they either help the composition of the picture or they help the feeling of light more strongly.’ (Patrick Caulfeild quoted in ibid, p.95). In Patio, the spotlight creates a sense of space and atmosphere that transforms what could otherwise be described as a flat decorated surface into a convincing analogy of an alternate world. The primulas in the upper left corner of the work have been rendered in an illusionistic manner which is at odds with the simplistic stylisation employed in the rest of the composition. The flowers thrust forward from the picture plane so that they appear to have entered real space and the viewers world.
The shaped canvas used in Patio is one of Caulfield rare forays into the oval associated with Cubish still lifes. He has also employed a technique which he favoured in a number of his works from the mid-1980s onwards, of using textural effects in his application of the paint, thus disrupting the flat surface and enlivening it. In Patio the stucco-like effect is strongly suggestive of do-it-yourself home improvements which were in vogue at the time: the combed pattern of underpainting is like the rough-textured plasterwork used in interiors. This surface made the task of painting more challenging but also more interesting. The low relief textures added the impact of real light onto the picture’s internal play of painted light and shadow. The tactility of the painting is also in counterpoint to the purely pictorial devices. It plays knowingly on our habitual reliance not just on our sight, but on our sense of touch, as a way of stabilising our spatial position – especially in dark places or at night, where the current scene is set.
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