Duck is a screenprint made at, and published by, the Byam Shaw School of Art, London, as part of the portfolio Nine London Birds. It was published in an edition of eighty with twenty proofs; Tate’s copy is an artist’s proof. The print is signed by the artist and inscribed ‘AP’ in the lower right corner of the image. Nine London Birds was conceived by Alister Warman, Principal of the Byam Shaw School of Art, as a means of raising funds towards bursaries offered to students of the school. The other eight artists included in the portfolio were Norman Ackroyd (born 1938), Craigie Aitchison (born 1926), John Bellany (born 1942), Jeffery Camp (born 1923), Prunella Clough (1919–99), Barry Flanagan (born 1941), Maggi Hambling (born 1945) and Paula Rego (born 1935).
Duck is a black on white print depicting a tufted duck sitting on water, with its reflection below it shown in reverse. A white shape in the centre of the image is suggestive of the shape of the duck’s leg or wing. Wavy white lines cut across the depicted reflection, breaking it up, in the way that ripples in the water disturb a true reflection. However, the apparent simplicity of the figuration here is undermined by the fact that the reflection has been reversed, thereby calling into question the viewer’s initial reading of the image.
In most of his prints Caulfield made use of areas of flat, bright colour, with black appearing in the form of heavy outlines, to depict still life objects and settings. Duck is therefore relatively unusual both in its colour scheme, and in its subject matter. However, in 1973 Caulfield had made a set of six black and white screenprints showing details from a café interior (P04105–P04110), in which he used black both for his characteristic outlines and in flat areas to indicate shadow and contrast. As he increasingly simplified the imagery in his prints throughout the 1980s, Caulfield used black more and more as a colour in itself, and after 1983 he no longer used it to outline his forms. Large White Jug 1990 (P79190) and Two Fish on a Plate 1999 (P79204) are his only other entirely black and white prints.
In 2001, having received a commission from the Royal Academy of Art, London to design a new decorative scheme for their Members’ Room, Caulfield embarked on the first stage of the project. Three years later, he completed it with the addition of a three metre square carpet, the design of which was taken directly from his print Duck. As in the print, the duck and its reflection are pictured in black, but the water and surrounding areas are now a bright turquoise, a colour which suggests the water itself but also picks up on the wall colour in the room. The carpet has a heavy black border which frames the central image (reproduced Livingstone p.270). This was not the first time Caulfield had used one of his own prints as the inspiration for an architectural commission; in the autumn of 2001 he had completed a mosaic in an underground station in Rome, the design for which was taken from Brown Pot 1994 (P79200).
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, collection 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:
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.84.