Patrick Caulfield and Gary Hume at Tate Britain

2013-06-05 14.44.33Oh Lordy, this was another one of those art exhibitions that I have wandered around thinking that everyone else must know something I don’t.

For a start, it’s not even one exhibition; it’s two in parallel, but for which only one ticket is required.  There is a communicating door between the two show spaces, but we were told not to use it by one of the Tate custodians.  Instead we had to go from one show to the other via the main lobby area, and subsequently suppress a desire to tell those people who did manage to sneak through the forbidden door that they should count themselves lucky not to have been caught.

We went around the Hume rooms first.  Most are large pieces, flat colour on sheets of shining metal.  I couldn’t work out what it was I was meant to be looking at.  Nasty colour combinations with the same sheen and finish as the bonnet of a recently polished car.  Some pieces, like Tulips and The Whole World have raised textured areas, underneath the gloss paint.

Since visiting the exhibition, I’ve read the newspaper reviews to try to understand why these things warranted a show at the Tate, because the show itself gave me no clue.  The reviews of Hume are mixed, but many are glowing about the enigmatic works and the use of colour in them.  Few of these words corresponded to my experience.

The Patrick Caulfield rooms were more interesting.  The style, areas of flat colour, strong black outlined shapes, has become familiar through its adoption by advertising graphic designers, so I think it would have been helpful to me to have had more information about his historical context, to get over that rather decorative first impression.

The black lines play with perspective, so that each painting takes a few moments to understand, and they are focussed on the banal places we inhabit: cinema foyers, bars and restaurants.  Each place is portrayed after all the people have left, abandoning unwanted remnants behind them.  There’s quite a lot of 1970s wallpaper in backgrounds and the common tropes of still lives in the foreground; so there are Matisse’s goldfish in After Lunch, and Picasso’s bull’s head in Hemingway Never Ate Here.  

I did enjoy the bold colours in these paintings, and could appreciate the great skill employed in creating the smooth surface, by largely eliminating the idea of the gestural brush stroke; making it even more noticeable when in, After Lunch the landscape view seen through the window (or painted on the back wall) of the restaurant, is rendered in a more realistic fashion, challenging, I suppose, our way of looking at painted representations of the world.

As I’ve been writing this, I’ve resolved that I should probably revisit the Caulfield to see if I can get more out of it on a second attempt, because I know I’ll be back at Tate Britain to spend more time with Simon Starling‘s current installation in the main central hallway.  Images of past exhibitions are shown on large screens while around you ambient sound is broadcast, the murmuring suserating  of large spaces, and the echo of footsteps from the past.

One mystery remains: how does Tate decide where to exhibit modern British artists?  Why was Hirst at Tate Modern, while Hume is at Tate Britain?

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  1. Great write-up – I haven’t been to see the exhibition yet, though I definitely want to, if only to form my own opinion. To answer your question at the end, as far as I know, British artists (modern or not) are exhibited at the Tate Britain and other modern art is at the Tate Modern. I heard a rumour from a friend who’s in the art world that the only reason Hirst was at the Modern was that he kicked up a fuss about being put at the Britain, since it’s the less famous and less edgy of the two. What a baby! Anyway, thanks for posting the review, definitely makes me want to check it out!

    • Thank you. You should definitely see it and make up your own mind. I am delighted that the write up has intrigued you enough to want to go.Thanks for the ‘allocation’ information. It’s what I had thought, until I recalled the Hirst location…. he goes down even further in my estimation. I already had major reservations about the ethics of that show!

  2. great write. thank you!
    ann marie.

  3. Great write up. I’ve not been yet, but I do love Caulfield. I think it either works for you or it doesn’t – if not, then try something else.

    • Thanks. It’s all about trying things to see if I like them, and moving on if I don’t!

  4. Catherine

     /  June 6, 2013

    I also got more out of seeing Caulfield – possibly because I’d just come back from Edinburgh and going round the Peploe exhibition in the Gallery of Modern Art there, where there were also lots of still lifes (is the plural ‘lifes’ or ‘lives’ in this case?), interiors and views from windows, and Caulfield, who I’d never seen before, had updated that to my childhood interiors.
    I do think I’d like to spend more time with the Simon Starling installation, especially now you have told me what it is about.

    • I think I’d go with ‘lives’! I’m also liking the Caulfield more since reading up about him. I’m returning this evening to draw and will check out the Starling again – I really like the bot of soundscape we heard on our way through.


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