Night Sky is a small, postcard-sized screenprint made at Advanced Graphics, a fine art print workshop in London. It forms part of the portfolio entitled Eighteen Small Prints, published by the Bernard Jacobson Gallery in London in an edition of one hundred plus fifteen proofs; Tate’s copy is an artist’s proof. It is signed by the artist on the back of the sheet, and inscribed ‘AP’ and with the title.
Eighteen Small Prints followed on from another portfolio of screenprints published the previous year by the Bernard Jacobson Gallery entitled 14 BIG Prints, to which Caulfield contributed Two Whiting (P79181). At this time, a number of contemporary artists had been experimenting with the medium of screenprinting; the earlier portfolio, as its title suggests, was one of the first to exploit the medium’s ability to create prints on a larger scale. Some of the other artists invited to make prints for the first portfolio were Peter Blake (born 1932), Bernard Cohen (born 1933), Robyn Denny (born 1930), John Hoyland (born 1934) and Eduardo Paolozzi (1924–2005). According to the Bernard Jacobson Gallery, it was Peter Blake who suggested to Bernard Jacobson that, as a riposte to 14 BIG Prints, he might ask artists to make prints on a very small scale. The result was Eighteen Small Prints. Other contributors included Bernard Cohen, Robyn Denny, Richard Hamilton (born 1922), David Hockney (born 1937), Eduardo Paolozzi and Richard Smith (born 1931), as well as Caulfield himself.
Night Sky depicts the solid black form of the top half of a bottle set against a saturated background of deep-blue sky. Small black circles dotted around the background are suggestive of either stars or bubbles floating upwards in a glass of champagne. Indeed, the form of the bottle is that of a sparkling wine or champagne bottle. Bottles and glasses appear repeatedly throughout Caulfield’s paintings and prints, both as signs of human activity – the human form being almost entirely absent from his work – and as links to a tradition of still life painting. Speaking to Marco Livingstone in 1980, Caulfield acknowledged his debt to Cubism:
I suppose I’ve used one or two images which have appeared in Cubist paintings without them being done in the Cubist manner, such as the pipe. I suppose the bottle and glass are equivalent in that way. You can think of them in various ways. The bottle is a very female form, and the pipe is a very masculine symbol. I don’t know if that’s one reason why they’re interesting, but they do say a lot, really. They’re like ready-made suggestions of life.
(Quoted in Livingstone, p.21, note 9.)
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, London 1999, reproduced no.30.