Two Fish on a Plate is a lithograph printed at Sky Editions, London and published in an edition of fifty by Alan Cristea Gallery, London. An additional unsigned and unlimited version of the print was printed on different quality paper for distribution to subscribers of Contemporary Visual Arts Magazine, with its April 1999 issue; Tate’s copy is one of this unsigned and unlimited edition. Caulfield was commissioned by the magazine’s editor, Keith Patrick, to produce the print for its subscribers.
Two Fish on a Plate depicts two fish lying head to tail on an oval platter, the flat rim of which is simply represented by two crescent-shaped curves. The eye of one fish is picked out while the other merges with the shape of the plate. The artist’s initials ‘PC’ are part of the image and appear in the bottom right corner. The image is rendered entirely in black and white and, as such, is relatively unusual within Caulfield’s printed oeuvre. A few years earlier, in 1994, he had produced Duck (P79199), another black and white print with a simple, graphic style. Two Fish on a Plate is also unusual for being a lithograph, Caulfield’s print medium of choice being the screenprint.
The subject matter of Two Fish on a Plate recalls that of an earlier Caulfield print, produced in 1972, Two Whiting (P79181). In both, the choice of lowly still-life subject matter references the work of the Cubists, and especially the paintings of Georges Braque (1882–1963), such as Black Fish 1942, in the collection of the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris. Braque’s painting shows two stylised black fish, lying on an oval plate on a table within an interior setting; to one side, two fruits rest on a crumpled cloth. Speaking to Marco Livingstone in 1980, Caulfield acknowledged this 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 ... they do say a lot, really. They’re like ready-made suggestions of life.’ (Quoted in Livingstone, p.21, note 9.) Two Fish on a Plate is one of the last prints Caulfield produced.
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.89.