Celia Paul

Self-portrait in a narrow mirror

I visited her exhibition at the Victoria Miro Gallery, on the night Celia Paul was in conversation, discussing her work and newly published autobiography. She is a quiet, gently spoken person who struck me as deeply private and introverted.

 

Her work in this new exhibition is acutely personal, with portraits of herself and her family, landscapes and seascapes. Throughout her working life her paintings have never wavered from the theme of family and familiar places, past and present, memory and mortality.

 

She dresses her models in pale shapeless clothing; sometimes an oversize faded chemise or a billowing elasticated skirt made from an old sheet. Her mother, with whom she had a particularly strong connection, visited her studio twice a week for many years to sit for countless portraits while dressed in such garments.

 

Her paintings are unadorned, without a visual clue of the time she is living in, no furnishing and no particular architecture, her sitter against a neutral wall or in a corner, bare floorboards below their feet. Her palette has become progressively monochrome over the years. There is a luminosity to her paintings, sometimes with her subjects lit from behind suggesting a halo effect around them. Her main areas of interest are the faces and hands of her sitters. She paints from life and in silence.

Paul's lack of "props" has given her a conduit, an intermediary, to convey a ghostlike, haunted quality to her work which has become all the more acute since the recent death of her mother.

My sisters in mourning

My mother with a rose