The Art Of Simplicity

Patrick Caulfield (1936-2005) and Gary Hulme (b. 1962) are two British painters whose work shares many stylistic affinities.

Patrick Caulfield After Lunch 1975 Tate

Patrick Caulfield, After Lunch, 1975, Tate

Their frequent use of solid outlines and large expanses of flat, bright paint display an absolute purity of line and colour, the essence of the medium of painting. This summer there is the opportunity to compare their work in exhibitions at Tate Britain (5th June – 1st September). On Thursday 27th June, Tate guide Alan Read will be speaking about the artists, their work and influences at a lecture at the Dulwich Picture Gallery.

Caulfield studied at the Chelsea School of Art and then the Royal College of Art (1959-63) where his contemporaries included David Hockney, Derek Boshier and R.B. Kitaj. From these artists emerged the British Pop art movement, a label often and easily applied to Caulfield’s work though such an identification is problematic. Certainly it is a categorisation he resisted and his work can more fruitfully be seen as the continuation of a tradition of still life painting the importance of which re-emerged at the beginning of the twentieth century.

In the 1970s Caulfield began juxtaposing solid line and flat colour with trompe l’oeil paintings which mischievously question the nature of artifice in painting and the ever-present tension between illusion and reality: ‘Ceci n’est pas un pipe’ as Rene Magritte had observed.

Gary Hume, Water Painting, 1999, Tate

Gary Hume, Water Painting, 1999, Tate

By the late 1980s Caulfield’s style became more simplified, the black outlines disappeared and the backgrounds were flooded with colour. Many see an increasing sense of melancholy creeping into Caulfield’s later paintings. Despite a superficial similarity with the work of Roy Lichtenstein Caulfield displayed an intensity of feeling which makes him quite distinct from joie de vivre of the American painter, recently the subject of a major retrospective at Tate Modern.

Gary Hume graduated from Goldsmith’s College in 1988, a member of the generation which was to become identified as the ‘Young British Artists’ and widely seen as revitalising the status and international importance of art in this country.  Hume’s work was included in the seminal Freeze exhibition in 1988 but, unlike some of his more infamous conceptual colleagues, Hume has always engaged with the medium of paint.

The unlikely sources of inspiration for his early paintings were the swing doors of institutions such as hospitals – large rectangular paintings of solid colours which recalled American Colour Field Painting or Hard Edged Abstraction. Raising the banal and quotidian to the status of high art is something of a feature of Hume’s work and can, like Caulfield, be seen as perpetuating the spirit of Pop art, a concern with popular culture and notions of taste.

Alan Read

Alan Read

Hume was one of the artists shown in the notorious Sensation exhibition at the Royal Academy in 1997 though it cannot be said that his work courted controversy. Indeed it has been said that his paintings are ‘remarkably easy to enjoy yet very difficult to intellectualise about.’ Hume himself has said, ‘If the Sublime is the moment of rest, then painting a picture that puts you at rest is extremely gorgeous.’

In their choice of subject matter both artists show a playfulness or whimsy which nevertheless avoids parody or satire. Sharing a simplicity and precision of approach to their work this lecture will offer a fascinating insight into two major British artists.

Patrick Caulfield and Gary Hume
Thursday 27 June
£10, £8 Friends – Includes a glass of wine

Tickets can be booked online:
By phone 020 8299 8750 Mon-Fri 10am – 4pm (Please leave a message outside these hours)
In person: visit the Friends Desk in the Gallery

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