Celia Paul (b. 1959) was born to missionary parents in South India, returning to their native England in 1965 when Paul was still a child, yet a deep-rooted spirituality still prevails within her deeply moving and meditative figurative works. As a young student, her interest in writing poetry was superseded by a desire to paint portraits, eventually leading to her being accepted to study at London’s prestigious Slade School of Fine Art.
Paul’s paintings and prints are intimate portraits of people or places with whom she is deeply connected and have always been idiosyncratically her own. Working predominantly from life, the subjects of memory, family and the private lives of women are at the very crux of her practice. Her subjects have centred on her family, especially her sisters with her mother featuring most regularly as a sitter throughout her oeuvre; Paul worked on a series of paintings and prints of her from 1977 to 2007.The setting of her paintings reflects the character of her studio in her flat opposite the British Museum andPaul’s deep connections with her sitter are apparent in her quiet and contemplative portrayals. A solitary figure sits or stands in undecorated surroundings, sometimes in close up, occasionally dwarfed by the emptiness, with quiet demeanour, melancholy, possibly lost in contemplation. In her print work, Paul has favoured the medium of softground, monochrome etching or, less frequently, lithography for her graphic work; media which mirror the intimacy and the soft outlines of her painting subjects.
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 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); 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 several major 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.