The artist Celia Paul, increasingly frustrated by frequent mentions of her turbulent relationship in books and articles, decided to tell her own revealing story
By Frances Spalding
The sight of just one painting by Celia Paul is enough to stamp her artistic personality in the viewer’s mind. In the past, occasional encounters with her work revealed her liking for single figures in a darkish, indeterminate setting. A deep melancholy prevails. She herself admits that these intensely personal and private paintings seem to have a “keep out” notice in front of them. But then, at All Too Human, an exhibition at Tate Britain of postwar figurative art, a large oil, Family Group (1984-86), stopped many visitors in their tracks. It showed her four sisters crowded around her mother, all squeezed on to a wrought iron bed, as if afloat on a raft, painted after the death of her father. Paul wanted to show them “without a navigator and longing for guidance”, also “huddling together for warmth and protection”. It is only the limited space of the bed that causes the huddling and there is no eye contact between the women. Yet a deep, connective empathy is conveyed.
Image: Celia Paul in her London studio
Photograph: Antonio Olmos/The Observer