Still Life with Bottle, Glass and Drape, painted just a year after completing his studies at the Royal College of Art, is one of the most stripped down and austere of Caulfield’s early works. His pictorial wit is already much in evidence, particularly in the choice of motifs – two objects made entirely of glass – suggestive of transparency but conveyed through flat areas of opaque paint encased in coloured outlines of uniform thickness. However genuine his homage to European forebears, the surface and method of execution are entirely his own: there is both a self-effacing quality and a breathtaking confidence in the choice of household gloss paint, a ‘non-art’ medium, and in the simplified forms suggestive of the straightforward functional purpose of sign-painting.
Still in his late twenties when this masterpiece of concision was painted, Caulfield here, as in other works of 1963-4, favoured a format that was just off-square to test his, and the viewer’s, sensitivity to the precision of placement and proportion across the surface. There is much play of symmetry against asymmetry, of stasis versus dynamism, that holds one’s attention in a trance-like state. The imagery, too, pulls in two directions, given the extreme restraint with which each element is represented – the shape of the vessels, the improbably rigid consistency of the highlights – and the subliminal triggers to the pleasures of drinking and intoxication. The glass and bottle are both shown as empty vessels, yet the rich, soft-edged green triangles that fill the V-shapes in the upper-left quadrant instill memories of fluid being poured into a void. In reminding the viewer of the transformation of liquid paint into solid form, and of those ‘abstract’ shapes into representations of familiar objects and substances, Caulfield celebrates the imaginative power of painting itself.
The following work has been requested by the Tate Gallery, London to be included in their forthcoming Patrick Caulfield exhibition, from 5th June to 8th September 2013.
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