David Tindle

Still Life with Plastic Cup and Spoon


Not on display

David Tindle born 1932
Tempera on board
Support: 505 × 711 mm
Presented by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest 1981

Display caption

David Tindle has exhibited widely in the UK and abroad. He was elected a member of the Royal Academy in 1979, and became a fellow of the Royal College  of Art two years later.

This still life was prompted by a plastic spoon pushed through a polystyrene cup. Tindle has placed them on what looks like an altar. He sees the cup and spoon as a crucifix and the egg as a container of life. He wrote: ‘Perhaps I see religion frozen in time, but ready to break out of ordinary objects.’

Gallery label, August 2004

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Technique and condition

Still Life with Plastic Cup and Spoon is painted in egg tempera on hardboard. The hardboard is sized, and primed with a thin chalk and glue ground (untested). Great care was taken to smooth this ground and reduce the brushmarks.

A sketch was made with a hard graphite pencil and broad regions of the background, table and egg were given a thin wash of body colour. This was then partially wiped down in the tablecloth to bring the remnants of the brushstrokes of the ground into relief.

Folds of cloth are modelled with a medley of thin, short brushstrokes, spattering, cross hatching, and broad sweeps. In some areas the ground is left exposed whilst in other areas multiple layers create opacity in this normally translucent paint.

The painting is unvarnished.

Mary A. Bustin
April 2002

Catalogue entry


Inscribed ‘DT 74’ bottom right and on back ‘No.1 David Tindle Oct–Nov. 1974/Still life with plastic cup & spoon./Egg
Tempera./20'' × 28 1/4'' 51.5 × 72cm.’
Tempera on gessoed hardboard, 19 7/8 × 28 (50.6 × 71.2)
Presented by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest 1981
Prov: Purchased from the artist by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest 1975
Exh: RA, May–July 1975 (6 as ‘Still Life with Plastic Cup and Spoon’); David Tindle, Piccadilly Gallery, September–October 1976 (24 as ‘Still Life, Broken Egg, Plastic Spoon and Cup’)

David Tindle was prompted to compose the still life arrangements from which this picture was made by an incident which took place in a polytechnic canteen when a student pushed a plastic spoon through a polystyrene cup. He took the cup away with him and made the setup depicted here in his studio. The objects were set on a cloth draped over a box placed on a table, so that they were almost at eye level and lit by fluorescent light from the right-hand side. This light both appears to flatten the objects and gives them the ‘frozen’ look that he was seeking.

Tindle alludes to the ‘religious’ nature of the image. The religion is not a conventional version of the Christian belief but rather his own sense of the religious in the everyday. He writes (9 February 1983): ‘Perhaps I see religion frozen in time, but ready to break out of ordinary objects, but not being a church-goer I probably get it all wrong, for it only comes to me as visionary images.’ He sees the cup and spoon as a crucifix form and the egg as a container of life, and writes (9 February 1983): ‘The box the objects are standing on could be taken as an altar. The cloth over the box (shroud) like the face of frozen rock, and its top like still snow.’ The objects are given this extraordinary quality both by the ‘abstract’ handling of the medium and by the ‘temperature’ of the painting. The dark area below the table cloth appears to make it float; the colour of the plane of the table top is crucial in establishing the frozen stasis of the whole painting.

Tindle paints with tempera on a gesso ground; it dries quickly but remains flexible and can be scraped off with a scalpel. For this work the areas were established in a contrasting underpainting (warm where the final coat would be dark, and vice versa) and the objects carefully drawn in pencil. After he had found the correct colour for the table top, he painted the cloth itself using a variety of techniques including glazes of colour and the splattering of colours over crumpled newspaper. He was careful to establish the incidents in the cloth, such as the marked crease below the egg, in relation to the objects on the table.

He used masks while painting the cloth, and the upper and lower background, either to cover a large area or the areas of the objects. Before painting the objects he cleaned the outlines carefully with a scalpel and then painted them with great care: he described it as ‘one of the really difficult things I have done in painting objects’. The hanger was used to emphasise the sense of the flat plane of the table top and literally to delineate an area. The colour of the egg is the only divergence from the overall coldness of the work.

He made an upright version of this composition immediately before this work in which the hanger hangs within the frame, and he also painted a small postcard-sized still life as a gift, using the same objects.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1980-82: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1984

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