British artist Celia Paul's portraits and paintings are known for their intensity, while at the same time emitting melancholy and a sense of introspection.Read More
Among Paul's primary sitters are her mother Pamela, whom the artist painted from the earliest years of her career, and her four sisters. My Mother with a Ring (1982) focuses on Pamela's face, who looks to the side. Deep in thought, and seemingly troubled, her eyes nevertheless seem to glimmer with hope or anticipation.
In Family Group (1984–1986), the Paul sisters and their mother all appear huddled together on a single metal bed. Beginning the work shortly after her father's death in 1983, Paul captures the raw sorrow of a family with shades of red on their faces. While the figures look away from each other, their closeness suggests companionship and empathy.
Paul showed prowess for painting at an early age, enrolling at London's Slade School of Fine Art when she was just 16. For many years, however, she was largely discussed in relation to painter Lucian Freud, with whom she had a complicated relationship and a son. Celia Paul's memoir, aptly titled Self-Portrait (2019), reflects on her life and her pursuits as an artist.
In Celia Paul's self-portraits, she often depicts herself standing or seated in a chair—a departure from the more conventional portrayal of the artist at work. Painter and Model (2012), in particular, considers the notion of the artist as both creator and subject: Paul, wearing her painter's smock, sits and faces the viewer, empty tubes on the floor. When featured in All Too Human (2018), a group exhibition of post-war British painting at Tate Britain, the Guardian named the work one of the show's three highlights.
Celia Paul's paintings often feature interiors and landscapes focusing on the light, colours, and forms of her subject matter. In The Brontë Parsonage (with Charlotte's Pine and Emily's Path to the Moors) (2017), the artist portrays the Brontë siblings' Yorkshire home in a colour palette of mainly blue and yellow, delineating the thin veil of sunlight that seeps through the cloudy sky.
Celia Paul's My Sisters in Mourning (2015–2016) was painted after her mother's death. In a 2019 article for the Guardian, Tim Adams suggested the work possesses parallels with the portrait of the Brontë sisters by their brother Branwell. In the painting, Paul uses shades of grey and blue to portray her sisters, whose bodies almost merge with the ambient background; at the same time, tones of muted yellow around the figures envelop them in a sense of warm connection.
Self-Portrait, Victoria Miro (2020, online); Celia Paul, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, Connecticut (2018), and The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens, San Marino, California (2019); Desdemona for Celia by Hilton, Gallery Met, New York (2015); Celia Paul: Mothers, Daughters and Sisters, University Gallery and Baring Wing, Newcastle Upon Tyne (2010).
All Too Human, Tate Britain, London (2018); NO MAN'S LAND: Women Artists from the Rubell Family Collection, National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C. (2016), and Rubell Museum, Miami (2015); Forces in Nature, Victoria Miro, London (2016); Gwen John and Celia Paul: Painters in Parallel, Pallant House Gallery, Chichester (2012).
Sherry Paik | Ocula | 2020