“Letters and paintings are both in the constant present.”
Painter Celia Paul rejoins the show for the US debut of her new book, Letters To Gwen John (NYRB). We talk about how Celia found herself through corresponding with the late artist (d. 1938), the parallels between her life and Gwen John’s, especially their respective relationships with Lucian Freud and Rodin, the notion of aesthetic solitude and artistic sacrifices and the loneliness of pandemic life, why men aren’t great at sitting for artists, her new exhibition, Memory & Desire (Victoria Miro Gallery), how Hilton Als got her to finally come to America and how much she enjoyed Santa Monica, the ambiguity of her previous memoir, Self-Portrait, whether one should look for an artist’s biography in their art, how her paintings have grown more concise as she’s grown older, what letters and paintings have in common, and more. (Incl. my interminable intro; seriously, skip to 13:30 for the conversation itself.) Give it a listen! And go read Letters To Gwen John and Self-Portrait!
(Go listen to our 2020 conversation; it’s awfully good)
“It became clearer to me how impressive Gwen’s self-discipline was. I wanted to learn from that. Even at the most turbulent times of her life, when she was most passionately involved with Rodin, she was producing these artworks of the most miraculous focus and delicacy, channeling all her feelings into her painting.”
“I wanted to make it clear, to myself and as a communication, what it feels like to be a painter.”
About our Guest
Celia Paul is recognized as one of the most important painters working in Britain today. Her major solo exhibitions include Celia Paul, curated by Hilton Als, at the Yale Center for British Art and the Huntington Art Museum in San Marino, California; Desdemona for Celia by Hilton at Gallery Met, New York, and Gwen John and Celia Paul, at Pallant House Gallery, Chichester, UK. Her work was included in the group exhibition All Too Human at Tate Britain. Her first book, Self-Portrait, was published by New York Review Books in 2020.
Above: self-portrait of Celia Paul
Below: final portrait of Steven Frank, Celia’s husband, in watercolor
Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded remotely via Zencastr. I used a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Cloudlifter CL-1 and a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Photo of Celia by Isabelle Young. It’s on my instagram.