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

Arts and Entertainment
Ellie Levenson’s The Election book demystifies politics for children
bookNew children's book primes the next generation for politics
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams' “Happy” was the most searched-for song lyric of 2014
musicThe power of song never greater, according to our internet searches
Arts and Entertainment
Roffey says: 'All of us carry shame and taboo around about our sexuality. But I was determined not to let shame stop me writing my memoir.'
books
Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Review: Miranda Hart and co deliver the festive goods

Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey in the 2014 Christmas special

tvReview: Older generation get hot under the collar this Christmas

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Transformers: Age of Extinction was the most searched for movie in the UK in 2014

film
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Ronson has had two UK number two singles but never a number one...yet

music
Arts and Entertainment
Clara Amfo will take over from Jameela Jamil on 25 January

radio
Arts and Entertainment
This is New England: Ken Cheeseman, Ann Dowd, Frances McDormand and Richard Jenkins in Olive Kitteridge

The most magnificently miserable show on television in a long timeTV
Arts and Entertainment
Andrea Faustini looks triumphant after hearing he has not made it through to Sunday's live final

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Latest stories from i100
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.

    War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

    The West needs more than a White Knight

    Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
    Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

    'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

    Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
    The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

    The stories that defined 2014

    From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
    Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

    Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

    Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
    Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

    Finally, a diet that works

    Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
    Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

    Say it with... lyrics

    The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
    Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

    The joys of 'thinkering'

    Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
    Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

    Monique Roffey interview

    The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
    Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

    Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

    Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
    DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

    Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

    It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
    Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

    How we met

    Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

    Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

    Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
    Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

    Who does your club need in the transfer window?

    Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
    The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015