Wall Plates is a set of four screenprints made at Kelpra Studio, a fine art print workshop in London. It was published in an edition of fifty with ten proofs of each image by Waddington Graphics, London; Tate’s set is one 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, and ‘K’, the mark of Kelpra Studio, are embossed into the paper in the same corner.
Each of the four prints depicts a stylised, circular plate hanging against a very dark, near-black background. The plates are rendered in a monochrome yellow, and are variously placed slightly off-centre, either to one side or just above the centre line of the background. The centres and edges of the plates are denoted by graphic black outlines and crescent-shaped shadows, as though a stark light were cast from the upper right corner, giving a sense of relief to these otherwise flat images. At the same time, each plate appears to be spot-lit within a wider circle of yellow light. In each case, the perfectly circular outline of the lit area is disrupted, or overlapped, in just one or two places by architectural elements barely added into the composition and hinted at in the individual titles. In Wall Plate: Highlights an architectural moulding seems to sit both in front of and behind the bottom of the plate, reflections from which appear as simple highlights on the moulding. Caulfield told his print dealer, Alan Cristea, that the Wall Plates were directly influenced by traditional Provençal hanging plates, which he saw on numerous summer holidays in the South of France (email correspondence with the author, 16 March 2009). He would have designed them in the early evening, hence the oblique nature of the lighting. Hanging plates appear in a number of Caulfield’s paintings, such as Buffet 1987 (reproduced in Livingstone p.153), although then they are often painted in a hyper-real style quite in contrast to the reduced graphic style of these prints.
Although nominally the subject matter of these prints is that of the traditional still life, favoured by Caulfield throughout his work, these are among the most abstract of the artist’s prints. The overall effect is optically challenging, resulting in a visual complexity initially masked by the apparent simplicity of the imagery. In his catalogue raisonné of Caulfield’s prints, Mel Gooding noted how the Cubists, to whom Caulfield acknowledges his debt, used still life imagery in order to minimise the importance of subject matter and thus emphasise the importance of the ‘relation of perception to conception, of seeing to knowing’ (Gooding, p.9). He went on to describe how Caulfield’s prints ‘play on perceptible ironies between surface realities and 3-D illusions, between “abstraction” and “representation”, between the work-as-fact and its poetic wit about contemporary and historical art and concepts and his own (and others’) reproduction of them’ (Gooding, p.10).
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.70.