White Ware Prints is a portfolio of eight screenprints made at Advanced Graphics, a fine art print workshop in London. It was published in an edition of forty-five with thirteen proofs of each image by Waddington Graphics, London; Tate’s set is the sixth of the artist’s proofs. Each print is signed by the artist and inscribed ‘AP’ below the lower right corner of the background set in a broad white margin. The initials ‘WG’, standing for Waddington Graphics, are embossed into the corner of each print.
In the White Ware series, the predominant colour scheme is black and white. The subject of each print is a single white ceramic pot represented against a dark background. Caulfield told Alan Cristea, his print dealer, that the inspiration for this series came from the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, and specifically from the catalogues they published of their collections of oriental ceramics (email to the author 16 March 2009). The term white ware simply refers to any pottery that has a white glaze. The colour of the ground varies from print to print, from dark blue to grey to brown to black. Three of the prints have accents of other, brighter colours, possibly suggestive of light falling through coloured glass. All of the prints have shafts of strong white light as part of their composition, while some include a light source such as a lampshade or window. As with many of Caulfield’s images, such as Wall Plates (1997, P79185-P79188), the light source appears to come predominantly from the top right, although the artist’s intention was not to imitate the effects of light in a realistic fashion.
Arita Flask depicts a curvilinear white vase with a narrow neck set in the foreground against a brown background. A broad shaft of white light streams down from the top right hand corner, casting sharp black shadows around the pot. The composition of this print is closely related to another print in the same portfolio, Arita Flask-black (P79197). Arita is a place in Japan famous in the eighteenth century for its porcelain, much of which was exported to Europe.
In many ways, Caulfield’s increasing preoccupation with the representation of light and shadow became in itself the subject matter of his work, and this is particularly true of White Ware Prints. Speaking to Marco Livingstone in the early 1980s he explained: ‘Once I got on to shadows, I really went to town; they became compositional elements, in fact more than the objects that the shadows came from. They’re all silhouettes. You accept them as shadows, but they’re not at all as shadows would be.’ (Quoted in Livingstone, p.86, note 50.) He continued: ‘I’m not actually painting from observation of light, I’m making up an idea of how light could appear to be. The angles of light in naturalistic terms could be totally wrong, but they either help the composition of the picture or they help the feeling of light more strongly.’ (Quoted in Livingstone, p.95.) Writing about the depiction of light in the White Ware Prints, Mel Gooding described how light:
is reduced to the most beautifully precise sign in images of startling abstract refinement. Caulfield’s abiding preoccupation with light is a component of his deepest philosophical and thematic concerns. For light is the very element of the visual, it is the determinant of colour, it discloses space. To consider visual representation and its paradoxes is to contemplate before anything else the phenomenon of light.
Patrick Caulfield made his first print, Ruins (P04076), in 1964 at Kelpra Studio, the fine art print workshop established by master printer Chris Prater in the late 1950s. Having chosen the medium of screenprinting for its ability to create immaculately flat areas of bright, saturated colour, Caulfield continued to collaborate with Prater and, from the late 1960s, with Chris Betambeau and later Bob Saich at Advanced Graphics. He produced prints regularly throughout his career, until 1999 when he made Les Demoiselles d’Avignon vues de Derrière (P78309), an homage to Pablo Picasso’s great painting Les Demoiselles d’Avignon 1907 (Museum of Modern Art, New York). For Caulfield, printmaking was a parallel activity to his painting, allowing him to explore the same subject matter and artistic concerns, as he explained:
Because I’m such a slow producer of paintings, I regard printmaking as a way of extending the kind of imagery that concerns me, because of its multiplication in editions. I don’t think of a print as very different to a painting, because I make a painting for each print in more or less detail. I’m not really a printmaker at all. I provide an image and then it’s printed by professional printers. It’s a relief to see this work under way.
(Quoted in Livingstone, p.31.)
Marco Livingstone, Patrick Caulfield: Paintings, London 2005.
Mel Gooding, Patrick Caulfield: The Complete Prints 1964-1999, Alan Cristea Gallery, London 1999, reproduced no.76.