Two hundred and ninety six

Pipe with Smoke

1990 by Patrick Caulfield
Government Art Collection

Patrick Caulfield was a contemporary of David Hockney’s, having studied with him in the early ’60s at the Royal Academy. Considering Hockney’s current exhibition at the RA, it is with a different viewpoint that we look at Caulfield’s work; it is always strange, the potency with which death changes our outlook on an artist. Remembering him, however, is not difficult, as his work was bold, bright and possessed a cheerful and comforting simplicity — not drawn from any lack of method, but from careful compositions that were never overstated. Clean and curious, Caulfield’s work ensues intrigue but allows the viewer to remain comfortable in its presence. Pipe with Smoke is such a work, its simplicity integral to the gently imposed but poignant impact. The pipe’s shape is basic but beautifully drawn, with a bell’s soft curve at its bottom while its handle cruves elegantly upwards. The shape of the black mouthpiece is echoed in the brilliance of the blue flame, whose movement is insinuated with the wavering lip of black at its tip. Colour here, is as important as design; the red is immediately arresting, and the blue flame bright as it clings to its background of the solid darker hue. The intrigue is then poked at through the oddity of the background which is not flat and is unexplained, featuring an angled three-dimensional shape through the centre. There is also the obvious summoning of Magritte’s Pipe, recalling his iconic image in an almost post-modern way. The unlikely and bright colours of Caulfield’s pipe certainly bring Magritte’s into the future and Caulfield’s cheerful comfort certainly borders with the surreal — we might remember Magritte’s words “Ceci n’est pas une pipe”.

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