Interior with a Picture
Patrick Caulfield 1936-2005, Interior with a Picture 1985-6 © DACS, 2002
This large oil painting shows a domestic interior. But instead of choosing a traditional view of a sitting room, bedroom or dining room, Caulfield has focussed on a confined area that is the junction between a landing and two corridors.
All the elements are perspectivally correct, but greatly simplified. The effect is to make the space seem simultaneously real and cartoon-like. Although the distance between the viewer and the furthest point in the scene is perhaps no more than twelve feet, there is nevertheless a strong sense of depth within the picture. This is because the foreground, middle ground and background are strongly delineated by the architecture and divide the canvas into thirds.
As we look at this painting, we appear to be standing near the end of a corridor. There is a wall to our right and ahead of us, in the background, is the base of a staircase seen in profile that leads upwards to the right. Between the staircase and us, occupying the middle ground is the opening to a second corridor that disappears off to our right. This corridor runs in front of and parallel to the staircase. The painting’s composition across the canvas is also divided into thirds. The left hand side of the canvas is taken up with the area at the bottom of the flight of stairs, which consists of a newel post and the first strut of the banisters. The middle of the painting contains the corridor wall facing us and, since we are placed at a slight angle to the corridor, we can see a short way down its length. This middle section of the painting is the most complex and contains the most detail, since the top third of this corridor wall is covered with heavily patterned wallpaper in scarlet and bright yellow. The wall below the paper is painted in a deep red and separating the two is a dado rail. Hanging right at the end of the corridor but almost central to the picture as a whole, is a still life painting of a jug, glass, candle and plate. This painting within the painting stands out strongly because unlike the simplified forms and flattened colour of the surrounding architecture, the still life has been painted in a highly realistic manner. Directly below the still life and under the dado rail is a large oval shape that stands slightly proud of the wall, like a plaster moulding.
The right hand side of the painting involves the intersection of the right hand corridor with the one in which we appear to be standing. The wall to our right gives the impression of running on past our shoulder, while the angle it creates where it joins the short spur of the corridor wall, is emphasised by the dado rail that runs around both walls and off the edge of the canvas. This whole painting is saturated with deep reds and warm orange-browns that provide an intense contrast with the yellow wallpaper and a number of patches of green and blue in and around the still life painting.
Patrick Caulfield's seemingly anonymous painting style is instantly recognisable. Although he disliked being identified with a particular art movement, he is often associated with British Pop Art because his subjects are often commercially produced or kitsch. However, unlike Pop Art he wasn't interested in social realism or social comment and nor was his subject matter obviously contemporary or overtly American. Instead, he chose subjects that were ambiguous both in tone and context, such as images taken from manuals or clichéd holiday destinations directly lifted from postcards. His paintings look like commercial advertising or a painting-by-numbers illustration because he removes all visible brush marks, limits his palette to bright bold colours in commercial gloss paint and surrounds his patches of flat colour with strong black outlines. Caulfield's painting style was in part a reaction to the highly personalised painting style of Abstract Expressionism, but he was also strongly influenced by Fernand Leger and the Cubist painter Juan Gris.
Caulfield's domestic interiors are often lifted directly from 1950s interior decorating magazines and they retain their original aspirational mood. Devoid of narrative, Caulfield nevertheless imbues each canvas with a powerful emotional register by suffusing them with a dominant saturated colour. Frequently melancholic, these interiors are always totally still and without a human presence except maybe for a light left on.
Many of his interior scenes also play with methods of portraying different forms, combinations and sources of light. He also incorporates trompe d'oeil and photorealistic elements in order to playfully explore the relationship between notions of reality, artifice and illusion. Caulfield was interested in showing how no one method of representation within an artwork can claim to be more or less 'real' than another. Interior with a Picture is a good example of one of Caulfield's interior scenes.