Celia Paul’s art stems from a deep connection to subject matter and is quiet, contemplative and ultimately moving in its profound attention to detail and deeply-felt spirituality. She makes intimate depictions of people and places she knows well. From 1977 to 2007 Paul worked on a series of paintings of her mother, and since then she has concentrated on painting her four sisters, especially her sister Kate, as well as a number of portraits of close friends. She has also produced a large number of evocative self-portraits over the course of her career. Paul’s self-portraits open up a painterly and conceptual dialogue between the dual role of subject and artist – caught between self-possession and self-scrutiny – as well as offering an extended consideration of the essential dualities of the medium – its ability to capture qualities of form, light and atmosphere, and its material presence.
In addition to her portraits, Paul has made detailed studies of landscapes and interiors, again focusing on the environment she knows best. She has made numerous studies of her studio, and has also painted the central London landmarks visible from its windows, including the British Museum and the BT Tower (previously known as the Post Office Tower). Her seascapes similarly focus on a subject she knows well. During the 1970s, Paul’s father was head of the Lee Abbey religious community in north Devon. Paul returned to this stretch of coastline to make studies for paintings that highlight the painter’s challenge not only to capture specific states of matter – water and air – but to attempt to capture the moment. These paintings are suffused with echoes and resonances of passing time, which in turn points to the poignancy and essential melancholy of the medium. Yet, for Paul, solace can be found in the consoling beauty of nature and in the flow of time that connects us all.
Celia Paul was born in 1959 in Trivandrum, India. She lives and works in London. Major solo exhibitions include Celia Paul, curated by Hilton Als, at Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, Connecticut (2018) touring to The Huntington, San Marino, California (2019), Desdemona for Celia by Hilton, Gallery Met, New York (2015–16); Gwen John and Celia Paul: Painters in Parallel, Pallant House Gallery, Chichester (2012–13); The Grave’s Art Gallery, Sheffield (2005) and Abbot Hall, Kendal (2004). She has participated in group exhibitions including Works on Paper, Galleri Bo Bjerggaard, Copenhagen, Denmark (2019); All Too Human: Bacon, Freud and a Century of Painting Life at Tate Britain (2018), La Diablesse, Tramps, London (2016); NO MAN’S LAND: Women Artists from the Rubell Family Collection, Rubell Family Collection, Miami (2015-2016); Forces in Nature curated by Hilton Als at Victoria Miro (2015); Recent acquisitions: Arcimboldo to Kitaj, British Museum, London (2013); Self-Consciousness, curated by Peter Doig and Hilton Als, VeneKlasen/Werner gallery, Berlin (2010); The School of London: Bacon to Bevan, Musée Maillol, Paris (1998) and British Figurative Painting of the 20th Century, The Israel Museum, Jerusalem (1992). Her work is in collections including Abbot Hall, Kendal; British Museum, London; Carlsberg Foundation, Copenhagen; Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge; Frissiras Museum, Athens; Herzog Ulrich Gallery, Brunswick, Germany; Metropolitan Museum, New York; Morgan Library and Museum, New York; National Portrait Gallery, London; New Hall Art Collection, Murray Edwards College, Cambridge; Ruth Borchard Collection; Saatchi Collection, London; Victoria and Albert Museum, London; Rubell Family Collection, Miami; and the Yale Center for British Art, Connecticut.
A solo exhibition of new works was recently held at Victoria Miro, Wharf Road, 6 April–14 May 2022. The exhibition coincided with the publication of Letters to Gwen John, a new Jonathan Cape book by the artist which centres on a series of letters addressed to the painter Gwen John (1876–1939), who has long been a tutelary spirit for Paul.
Work by the artist recently featured in Pictus Porrectus; Reconsidering the Full-Length Portrait, curated by Dodie Kazanjian and Alison Gingeras, on view at Bell House, Newport, Rhode Island (until 2 October 2022).
Celia Paul is also part of the group exhibition curated by Hilton Als, Joan Didion: What She Means, on view at the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, USA, from 11 October 2022.
Celia Paul was awarded Harper’s Bazaar Artist of the Year, 2019.