Celia Paul: Self-Portrait
10 November–12 December 2020
Victoria Miro on Vortic
Victoria Miro is delighted to present a selection of new and recent paintings by Celia Paul on the occasion of the US publication of the artist’s acclaimed autobiography, Self-Portrait.
Accompanied by a reading and a personal selection of extracts from the book, which is published by New York Review Books on 10 November 2020, this online presentation features the enduring and widely celebrated subject and motifs of Paul’s art: self-portraiture, paintings of those closest to her, including her husband Steven Kupfer, her home and studio, sky and seascapes. It underscores the deep connections – familial, creative, looping back and forth across time – to people and places on which her work is founded and highlights her career-long enquiry into the complexities of interior and exterior life, constancy and change.
Reviewing Self-Portrait in The Times, Michael Prodger commented, ‘Her painting and writing are of a piece – closely observed, not seeking to flatter, and with people always as her focus.’ Viewing Paul’s painting and writing in tandem echoes the unique qualities of Self-Portrait, in which Paul moves effortlessly through time in words and images, folding in her past and present selves – from her move to the Slade School of Fine Art at sixteen, through a profound and intense affair with the older and better-known artist Lucian Freud, to the practices of her present-day studio. It is a story described by Zadie Smith in an extended consideration of Self-Portrait published in the New York Review of Books, as ‘striking. It is not, as has been assumed, the tale of a muse who later became a painter, but an account of a painter who, for ten years of her early life, found herself mistaken for a muse…’
Self-Portrait in a Narrow Mirror, 2019
‘The mood is sombre and the colours, slate-grey and mother-of-pearl, have an affinity with Gwen John…’ — Celia Paul
The mood is sombre and the colours, slate-grey and mother-of-pearl, have an affinity with Gwen John, as well as sharing something of her interiority. I am, like her – she famously posed for Rodin and was passionately involved with him – both painter and model. (Self-Portrait, p192)
Lucian Freud’s Studio Window, Holland Park, 2018
‘The taxi drew up outside an impressively tall house, white like a wedding cake…’ — Celia Paul
The taxi drew up outside an impressively tall house, white like a wedding cake and one of a curved line of similar houses, all facing Holland Park. We went up the wide carpeted stairs until we reached a door like a wall, covered in mouse-coloured baize. He took out his bunch of keys and unlocked the door to reveal another door, which he unlocked with a different key. (Self-Portrait, p19)
Room, Great Russell Street, Morning, 2020
‘The nearly empty rooms serve the purpose of being receptacles for the light…’ — Celia Paul
The flat that Lucian bought me in August 1982 has hardly changed since the day we first saw it and were astonished by the great windows looking onto the forecourt of the British Museum.
The flat is high up, on the fourth floor, a climb of eighty steps. The nearly empty rooms serve the purpose of being receptacles for the light. I am on a level with the figures on the frieze on the front pediment of the British Museum. The little figures of the tourists in the forecourt look as tiny as ants, in comparison. When I wake up, the first things I see from my bed are these huge figures of the Muses carved into the triangular summit of the pediment. (Self-Portrait, p195)
My Plane Tree in front of the British Museum, 2020
‘It appears to me to be the spirit of endurance and hope…’ — Celia Paul
I am on a level with the topmost boughs of ‘my’ plane tree in Great Russell Street. It appears to me to be the spirit of endurance and hope. Its slender trunk bears only the slightest warp under the strain of supporting its load of twisted branches, heavy with seedpods round as pom-poms. (Self-Portrait, p195)
Steve, October-November, 2019
‘He also understands and respects my need for privacy. He is a very private person, too…’ — Celia Paul
Steve and I don’t live together because of my need to have my own private space. He doesn’t have a key to my flat. He also understands and respects my need for privacy. He is a very private person, too. His support for me and for my work is without bounds and so much of my recent confidence is due to his continuing love. (Self-Portrait, p7-8)
Hot Summer Sea, 2018
‘When the wave is actually in the process of breaking, it is impossible to witness what is happening in the chaos of splintering water…’ — Celia Paul
I watched how one can clearly see the wave as it approaches, and the traces of it as it is pulled back again by the drag of the tide, but then when the wave is actually in the process of breaking, it is impossible to witness what is happening in the chaos of splintering water. It made me think about how impossible it is to live fully in the present. I recognise the impossibility, but also the necessity of trying. (Self-Portrait, p186)
Self-Portrait in Sunlight, 2020
‘I have always been, and I remain at nearly sixty, the same person I was as a teenager…’ — Celia Paul
I have always been, and I remain at nearly sixty, the same person I was as a teenager, when I first met Lucian; and as a child in India, when I sat so still in the beautiful garden of our house in Trivandrum that the butterflies landed on me. (Self-Portrait, p9)
Rising Clouds and Gulls, 2020
‘Like sparks from flint that fly…’ — Celia Paul
The lake in the frozen grass is white white
As the sky
And the sailing boat masts that turn to cloud
Are ice-bright and hurt as much
As the white-hot gulls
Like sparks from flint that fly
And hook the eye
With stabbing points of bridal light
And who shall be most white?
And who shall be most white in a sky
That has been inverted like an eye
With beautiful iris a blue stain
Gazing at the brain?
‘I’m not a portrait painter. If I’m anything, I have always been an autobiographer.’ — Celia Paul
Published in the US by New York Review Books on 10 November 2020, Self-Portrait tells the artist’s story in her own words, drawn from early journal entries as well as memory, of her childhood in India and her days as an art student at London’s Slade School of Fine Art; of her intense decades-long relationship with the older esteemed painter Lucian Freud and the birth of their son; of the challenges of motherhood, the unresolvable conflict between caring for a child and remaining committed to art; of the ‘invisible skeins between people,’ the profound familial connections Paul communicates through her paintings of her mother and sisters; and finally, of the mystical presence in her own solitary vision of the world around her. With over seventy illustrations, Self-Portrait is a powerful, liberating evocation of a life and of a life-long dedication to art.
About the artist
Born in 1959 in Trivandrum, India, Celia Paul lives and works in London. Recent solo exhibitions include Celia Paul, curated by Hilton Als (Pulitzer Prize-winning author, staff writer and theatre critic for The New Yorker and associate professor of writing at Columbia University), which originated at the Yale Centre for British Art in 2018 and subsequently toured to The Huntington; and Desdemona for Celia by Hilton, at the Gallery Met, New York (2015–16). Paul’s paintings were also included in All Too Human: Bacon, Freud and a Century of Painting Life at Tate Britain, 2018. Last year, the artist published her memoir Self-Portrait, praised by notable critics, including Zadie Smith in the New York Review of Books. Self-Portrait is published in the US on 10 November 2020 by New York Review Books. Paul has just finished working with filmmaker Jake Auerbach on a documentary about her life.
Vortic installation views
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For enquiries regarding featured works and other matters, please contact the below:
Victoria Miro: firstname.lastname@example.org