Celia Paul: Mothers and daughters

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Celia Paul has made a career out painting portraits of her mother. But her latest exhibition, which opens today, is an exploration of the similarities between her and her four sisters and the identity crisis that large families can cause.

Having four sisters has made artist Celia Paul’s identity “kind of questionable,” she says. Referred to as “all of you” by their mother, the five daughters are so alike that people take delight in comparing them: “Oh you look just like Jane/Kate/whatsername”. As any child from a big family will, I think, understand, having your parents’ gene pool replicated in siblings around you gives one a strangely collective sense of self. Paul sought to capture the subtleties of her family look for her latest exhibition at Marlborough Fine Art, which opens today.

Painting her family is by no means a new thing for Paul. She discovered aged 17, while taking up an early place at The Slade, that drawing a life model, a stranger, brought her nothing but bafflement. “She [the model] meant nothing to me, so I couldn’t work from her,” she says. “It seemed important to me to work from someone who mattered to me. And the person who mattered most to me was my mother.”

This discovery led Paul to a 35-year career painting her mother, whom she describes as her Mont Sainte-Victoire. Just as Cezanne replicated that same landscape, the view from his window, over and over, Paul’s work repeats the contours and shapes of the face that first looked on her. Choosing her mother as her muse is rather interesting. After all, in classical mythology, the Muses sprang from the earth’s creators, the gods Uranus and Gaia, and inspired the creation of art. Muse as creator, and therefore mother, is a nice motif. But when her mother reached her 80s and became too frail to climb the numerous steps to Paul’s London studio, the artist had to search for her next source of inspiration.

Click here on the image for a picture preview

“In the mid-Eighties I did a group portrait of all my sisters with my mother in the centre. My father had only recently died so the picture was about loss, I suppose,” Paul says. She imitated the set-up of this earlier painting for a recent work, dressing her four sisters alike in shapeless cotton dresses (“a kind of uniform”) and placing herself peering reflected in a mirror behind them. It is a striking, vibrant portrait in dripping watercolour: each sister’s face is similar, yet distorted by expression. Paul’s own presence in the picture, replacing her mother’s its earlier rendition, is also telling: if the original was about the loss of her father, the new one is about the loss of painting her mother.

Paul’s work is quite serious. But, as the exhibition’s title Identity suggests, she is playing with notions of herself. She tricks the onlooker with small individual portraits, apparently of her sisters, but puts a couple of self-portraits in there to shake things up. “Your identity is important when you have four sisters. The similarities between us made me think of the fragility of identity, not just my family’s but in portraiture as a whole. It is really something so subtle to conjure up the presence of the sitter. So, to bring out in a row of women the minute, very telling differences – the ways they position their feet and hands, the tilt of their head, everything – becomes much more specific.”

Paul was keen to exhibit her work at the Marlborough gallery because it will hang alongside a separate show titled Mothers and Daughters. “I really think this is a subject which hasn’t been explored at all in art. I do think mothers and daughters stay close in a way that is different from mothers and sons. The mother and son motif goes back to Mary and Jesus and is a very family subject in art.” You need only look at the maternal portraits made by Whistler, Matisse and Lucien Freud to see her point. But this doesn’t mean she’d be averse to exploring the relationship between herself and her own son. “I would actually like to go on to explore this with my own son. My mother actually helped me to bring him up so he’s featured in portraits with her. But I’ve only recently started working from him alone.”

Paul says it is wrench no-longer painting her mother – “It was so much part of a routine her coming to sit for me” – but she sounds cautiously liberated by it, as if no longer painting her mother is forcing her to forge a new artistic identity. The new exhibition is a huge and complimentary tribute to her muse and creator, her mother, but it is also a fledgling flight in a new direction.

 

Celia Paul, Identity, is at Marlborough Fine Art from today until 27 February, marlboroughfineart.com

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace was caught by a camera van driving 32mph over the speed limit

TV
Arts and Entertainment
books
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Iain reacts to his GBBO disaster

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Outlaw Pete is based on an eight-minute ballad from Springsteen’s 2009 Working on a Dream album

books
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012

film
Arts and Entertainment
Simon Cowell is less than impressed with the Strictly/X Factor scheduling clash

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Exhibition
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard has left the Great British Bake Off 2014

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live

TV
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
Arts and Entertainment
Suha Arraf’s film ‘Villa Touma’ (left) is set in Ramallah and all the actresses are Palestinian

film
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Carell in the poster for new film 'Foxcatcher'
filmExclusive: First look at comic actor in first major serious role
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
    Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

    Neil Lawson Baker interview

    ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

    ... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
    Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

    Europe's biggest steampunk convention

    Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

    The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor