Patrick Caulfield

Grey Pipe


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Patrick Caulfield 1936–2005
Screenprint on paper
Image: 488 × 513 mm
Purchased with assistance from Anne Best 2006


Grey Pipe is a screenprint made at Kelpra Studio, a fine art print workshop in London. It was published in an edition of seventy-five with fifteen proofs by Waddington Graphics, London; Tate’s copy is an artist’s proof. It is signed by the artist and inscribed ‘AP’ below the lower right corner of the background set in a broad white margin. The initial ‘K’, the mark of Kelpra Studio, is embossed into the paper in the same corner.

Grey Pipe is a near-square print with a muted colour scheme, depicting a smoker’s pipe resting in an ashtray. Both objects are rendered in a schematic fashion with heavy black outlines – in the case of the pipe – and a monotone black underside – in the case of the ashtray – against a flat background of pale grey. Pale highlights serve to suggest their three-dimensional properties, although the objects cast no shadow on the monochromatic background. The large size of this print results in the pipe being rendered many times greater than life-size.

This exact arrangement of the pipe and ashtray in Grey Pipe would reappear the following year, on a similar scale, in Caulfield’s largest painting to date, The London Life Mural 1982 (current whereabouts unknown, reproduced Livingstone p.150). This painting was the result of a commission from the London Life Insurance Company to make a painting for the entrance hall of their then headquarters in Bristol, on the theme of ‘The Historical Significance of the Site’. The resulting painting, comprising twelve pieces of hardboard for its support, measured over six metres square. Despite its grand scale, Caulfield chose for his subject simple domestic objects, such as the pipe and the half-full decanter, which however had a link with the mercantile history of the town. The simple, cartoon-style black outlines which delineate the still life objects belie the pictorial complexity of the painting’s composition, in which the artist set up an interplay of light and shadows, of reflection and transparency.

The choice of smoking materials, and in particular pipes, as subject matter is one which recurs throughout Caulfield’s work. In 1972 he had produced Pipe (P04102), a large screenprint depicting a pipe resting on the floor in the corner of a brightly wallpapered room. A few years later, in 1976, he returned to this apparently ordinary, domestic subject matter in another screenprint Pipe in Bowl (P05412), in which a pipe rests in a red bowl on a granite worktop. On the wall behind, two different light sources cast overlapping shadows of the pipe and bowl. Much later, in the 1990s, he made a number of small paintings featuring pipes set against domestic architectural elements, such as door and window frames. Later still, in his 1997 screenprint Freud’s Smoke (P79203), he chose to represent Sigmund Freud simply by his ubiquitous cigar. The pipe can be read as a reference to Cubism or even to the work of René Magritte (1898–1967), whom Caulfield also admired. Speaking to Marco Livingstone in 1980, Caulfield commented:

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.)

Further reading
Marco Livingstone, Patrick Caulfield: Paintings, London 2005, pp.150–1.
Mel Gooding, Patrick Caulfield: The Complete Prints 1964–1999, London 1999, reproduced no.64.

Michela Parkin
March 2009

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