Grill is a vertically oriented, semi-abstract painting with a dark red background, in the lower part of which is a highly naturalistic depiction of three steaks sitting close together. The steaks appear to occupy a three-dimensional space, contrasting with the work’s flat background. Each has a thin layer of white fat round its edges and a green garnish. The meat is mostly a dark red hue, similar to that of the painting’s background, but shadows and varying tones suggest contours on the steaks, whereas the background is relatively unmodulated. At the top-right is a tall black rectangle-like shape with a rounded top and bottom and sides that taper towards its upper half. Dominating the part of the painting above the steaks is a red, roughly rhombus-shaped area with thick, furrowed edges and palpably textured lines across it, running parallel to the form’s diagonal orientation. To the upper left of the rhombus and overlapping it is a bright white circle, and where this crosses over with the rhombus it has a textured surface, while the remainder of the circle is smooth. A dark shadow runs along the bottom-left edge of the rhomboid area, suggesting that it may somehow be elevated above the picture plane, although this shadow stops where it meets the white circle.
This work was made by the British artist Patrick Caulfield in London in 1989. It was executed on a single piece of coarse canvas with a slightly open weave, which was attached to an expandable stretcher. Caulfield initially covered the front and sides of the support with a white acrylic gesso and then established the thick surface textures using white modelling paste. The edge of the rhombus shape appears to have been made by squeezing paste into lines on the canvas directly from a tube. Meanwhile the textured area inside this form was most likely sculpted with a palette knife. Caulfield subsequently covered the canvas in various tones of acrylic emulsion. These were mostly opaque, although the dark red was not and therefore had to be applied in many coats to cover the paste fully. Grill has a hardwood frame, probably original, which consists of a square moulding stained to a dark umber colour and then polished.
Grill is characteristic of Caulfield’s paintings from the late 1980s and early 1990s (see also Reception 1988), which mostly have flat backgrounds of a single, largely unmodulated tone and include at least one naturalistically rendered object as well as raised, textured areas. They also commonly feature lamp shades and stylised beams of light, and it is likely that the black curved shape and the white circle in this painting were intended to depict such forms. As Caulfield acknowledged in 1998, whereas the representational content of his earlier works was generally easily recognisable, those from this period were ‘more elusive’ (Caulfield in Patrick Caulfield and Bryan Robertson, ‘Patrick Caulfield: A Dialogue with Bryan Robertson’, in Hayward Gallery 1999, p.30). The title Grill could refer both to the raised lines within the large square area, which loosely resemble the slats of a grill pan, or to the act of grilling the depicted steaks.
According to the art historian Marco Livingstone, the major shift towards abstraction that characterises Caulfield’s work of the late 1980s, as exemplified by Grill, resulted from a change in ‘the way he planned his paintings’: whereas previously he had designed the whole composition in detailed studies, now Caulfield was ‘deciding on the elements he wished to include and then proceeding from one to the next directly on the canvas’. Livingstone argues that this led away from the ‘coherent, uninterrupted space’ and ‘unified perspective’ that can be found in Caulfield’s earlier works and towards paintings which present ‘the base colour as a flat ground punctuated by images and incidents suggestive but not descriptive of a particular location’ (Livingstone 2005, p.158). Livingstone has observed further that the raised, textured surfaces that consistently feature in Caulfield’s paintings of this period served as a ‘counterpoint’ to their illusionistic renderings of various objects, and that these sections of the works engage the viewer’s sense of touch (Livingstone 2005, p.152). For instance, Livingstone has written that in Grill this is achieved through the long raised lines that ‘create the effect of panelling’, suggesting that Caulfield was experimenting with a way of depicting interior scenes and still lives that operated through tactility rather than visual resemblance (Livingstone 2005, p.158).
Mel Gooding, ‘A Light on Things: Patrick Caulfield’, Art Monthly, October 1989, pp.12, 14.
Patrick Caulfield, exhibition catalogue, Hayward Gallery, London 1999, p.19, 152, reproduced p.105.
Marco Livingstone, Patrick Caulfield: Paintings, London 2005, p.152, reproduced pp.158, 172.
Supported by Christie’s.
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Technique and condition
The painting was executed on a single piece of fairly coarse and slightly open-weave linen canvas, attached to a four-membered softwood expandable stretcher with wire staples at the rear. Once the canvas was stretched, a white acrylic gesso primer was applied to the front face and all four edges. Although at least two layers of primer would have been applied, much of the canvas weave texture has remained apparent through it. The primer penetrates through to the back of the canvas in many areas, which indicates that it was well worked into the coarse canvas during its application.
The various surface textures of the painting were established before the coloured paint was applied. These were achieved with a white modelling paste (probably also an acrylic emulsion) that was applied directly over the priming in a number of ways. In the main diamond shape, for example, the three adjacent thick cylindrical forms appear to have been squeezed straight from a tube, whereas the textured area inside it was probably achieved with a palette knife. The paints used were also acrylic emulsions and were probably those made by Liquitex, a brand that Caulfield is known to have liked. The paint would have been predominantly vehicular in consistency and would have been brushed out well in areas of flat colour with very little thinning necessary. Most of the colours used are opaque, apart from the deep red, which is actually rather transparent and subsequently would have required many more layers to hide the white modelling paste beneath it. There is no varnish layer over the paint. The hardwood frame is though to be original to the work and consists of a simple square moulding stained to a dark umber colour and polished.
The painting is in an excellent condition. Although the canvas is slightly distorted at the rear due to the uneven contraction of the paint layers, it is still taut and providing good support. The paint layers themselves are not exhibiting any signs of degradation. A sheet of polystyrene was recently inserted inside the stretcher bars to provide additional support to the paint films and a backboard was attached to offer improved protection.
Tom Learner May 1998