– Autumn/Winter 2005
This text is only available to subscribers
To subscribe to Afterall journal, starting with this issue, please click here.
Alternatively, if you wish to purchase this article individually, you may do so via the University of Chicago’s website.
Of the young artists to emerge in London during the first half of the 1960s loosely grouped under the generic heading of pop art, Patrick Caulfield now seems like the joker in the pack. For while he is supremely pop - one of the great visual interpreters of a mass-produced, mass-mediated modernity - one also feels he is constantly distancing the temper of his interpretations away from what are regarded as the principal characteristics of pop art.
To the art historian Marco Livingstone, Caulfield has described an early 'starting point' of his work as possessing 'the shock of the familiar'.1 It is a great line, and this subject matter - bland, quotidian, inscrutable - is rendered even cooler; it appears deep frozen, you might say, by his hypnotically distinctive style. Scenes and objects - a pony, a record player, a church, a dining recess, a popular work of 'classical' art - are described by Caulfield's art in a way which simultaneously heightens their presence and empties them of meaning.
Caulfield is a poet, in this respect, and mimicking a robot presence, his works can appear to have the charm and simplicity of illustrations in the margin of a medieval manuscript, while at the same time transmitting their air of progressive modernity as though with a low-electronic pulse. Such meticulous tension, as conveyed in Caulfield's signature style of flat, dense colours encased in thick black lines, has the effect of describing a timeless sense of the contemporary. His subjects appear drawn from some infinite catalogue of modern devices and phenomena; they seem to present themselves quite free of any additional rhetoric - their extraordinary intensity