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Patrick Caulfield at Pallant House Gallery

Patrick Caulfield’s paintings trace the presence of people long gone, writes Andrew Mead

Patrick Caulfield: Between the Lines. Until 14 June at Pallant House Gallery, Chichester, PO19 1TJ.

One solace for Colin St John Wilson during the three frustrating decades that it took to build his British Library must have been the art works he collected. Paintings by Patrick Caulfield (who died in 2005) were a particular favourite and, supplemented by loans from other sources, they are now on show in Wilson’s last completed building, the new wing at Pallant House Gallery in Chichester.

Occasionally Caulfield painted facades and forecourts, but he specialised in interiors, mostly of generic public places such as lobbies, offices, restaurants and bars. The early works are linear in nature, while later ones are more about light and shade. But their visual charge comes particularly from the way in which some parts of the canvas are painted in much more detail than others, with hyper-realist precision at one extreme and
a blank field of colour at the other.

‘There seems no reason to treat everything evenly. It’s more like a collaged memory of things,’ said Caulfield. At times the result can recall the montages that Mies van der Rohe made, usually for museum projects, in which tiny reproductions of famous paintings punctuate an abstract space. But in deciding what to omit or accentuate, Caulfield seems always to give us the essence of a scene. He sees what’s salient, whether a pattern or a texture, and makes it count.

Like the Italian artist Giorgio de Chirico in the early 20th century, Caulfield is a
painter of emptiness, but while de Chirico’s deserted plazas are eerie, Caulfield’s interiors are often melancholic. As places that people continually pass through, but do not inhabit, they speak of human transience, even mortality, and this undertow of darkness deepens their appeal.

Resume: Melancholia lies between the brushstrokes of Caulfield’s paintings


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