At first glance, these prints might be seen, in their apparent simplicity, as works of no great consequence
“Why in the world did you buy that thing? Anyone could make something like that.”
I got a number of comments along those lines years ago as friends first gazed upon what I had purchased. Time, if nothing else, has shown the error of such views. Caulfield’s bold, distinctive prints easily stand apart. It is very difficult to mistake them for the work of any other artist and hard to find anything similar. We are all familiar with the expression “less is more.” In a similar vein, it may well be more difficult to produce images that are satisfying in their simplicity than impressive in their complexity.
Caulfield’s images of common objects and familiar interior scenes are first and foremost highly approachable: few if any viewers will find themselves mystified by the artist’s subject matter. So one can move immediately to the treatment of what is depicted and begin to think about why it is satisfying and attractive -- or not if you think otherwise.
For the most part, Caulfield utilizes fields of uniform color contained within precisely defined outlines to depict objects or scenes that have been reduced to essential minimums – ideal material for the silk-screen technique. Devoid of unnecessary embellishments, these images depict essences, giving rise to moods, emotions and memories while at the same time satisfying the eye
But for those who want to go further, there is also considerable intellectual content and a sly sense of humor in a number of these works. Consider, for instance, the four-print sequence “Interior: Morning, Noon, Evening, Night.”
Monet, perhaps most famously, urged us to consider the idea that objects may not be of any particular color: cathedrals and haystacks change color in different light. Anyone who has spent time gazing at Puget Sound knows this to be true. Yet our brains, having been told what color something is supposed to be, tend to correct for changes in lighting, resulting in us seeing, for instance, a certain garage door as “white” even though it really isn’t much of the time.
In photography, this is known as automatic white balance, or making continuous adjustments within an electronic camera to compensate for the changing color of light. Looking at Caulfield’s “Interior” series, one can see that, within the bounds of flat color fields, the artist has provided what might be considered accurate, conventional depictions of the color (or absence) of light during the four times of day under consideration. But knowing that surfaces such as window frames and lamp shades will change color as the light changes, Caulfield has rather brazenly chosen the color that in his view best complements the color of the light in question. Nature having cracked the door open, the artist rushes through.
But there is also an implication here that the viewer need not be satisfied with Caulfield’s choices. Red, blue and yellow are the colors out of which all others are made – when it comes to painting. The same goes for red, blue and green with respect to electronics – the depiction of color on a TV screen. Note that Caufield has provided all four and thereby seems to be saying: “here, I’ve given you the tools to make it anything you want. What color combinations please you?”
That invitation to substitute one’s own choices could be considered humorous as well as intellectually stimulating and aesthetically provocative. And, indeed, a rather sly, intellectual form of humor runs through many of these prints.