at home: Artists in Conversation | Celia Paul on Gwen John

Celia Paul in conversation with Rachel Stratton, Postdoctoral Research Associate, Yale Center for British Art.

Join the artist for a discussion of her new book Letters to Gwen John, a series of letters addressed to the Welsh painter Gwen John (1876–1939). 

at home: Artists in Conversation

Join us for lively and inspiring conversations with some of today’s most notable artists. at home: Artists in Conversation brings together curators and artists to discuss various artistic practices and insights into their work.

About Celia Paul

Born in 1959 in Trivandrum, India, Paul is a British contemporary artist who makes intimate, sometimes haunting portraits of people and places, often addressing themes of memory, family, and the inner lives of women. She studied at the Slade School of Fine Art from 1976 to 1981. From 1977 to 2007, she worked on a series of paintings of her mother, and since then has concentrated on painting her four sisters and close friends. Paul has also made detailed studies of landscapes and interiors, focusing on environments she knows best. Her numerous studies include her studio and central London landmarks visible from her studio’s windows, including the British Museum.

Paul’s seascapes also focus on areas she knows well, including the north Devon coastline, where her father was head of the Lee Abbey religious community. Major solo exhibitions include The Hilton Als Series: Celia Paul (2018), curated by Pulitzer Prize–winning writer Hilton Als at the YCBA and the Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens, San Marino, California (2019); Desdemona for Celia by Hilton (2015–16) at Gallery Met, New York; and Gwen John and Celia Paul: Painters in Parallel (2012–13), Pallant House Gallery, Chichester, England. She has participated in numerous group exhibitions and her work is in collections worldwide. Paul lives and works in London.

About "Letters to Gwen John"

Paul’s Letters to Gwen John (2022) centers on a series of letters addressed to the Welsh painter who has long been the author’s tutelary spirit. John spent much of her life in France, making art on her own terms and, like Paul, painting mostly women. John’s reputation was overshadowed during her lifetime by her brother, Augustus John, and her lover Auguste Rodin. Through the epistolary form, Paul draws fruitful comparisons between John’s life and her own: their shared resolve to protect the sources of their creativity, their fierce commitment to painting, and the ways in which their associations with older male artists affected the public’s reception of their work.

Letters to Gwen John is at once an intimate correspondence, an illuminating portrait of two painters (including full-color plates of both artists’ work), and a writer/artist’s daybook describing Paul’s first exhibitions in America, her search for new forms, her husband’s cancer diagnosis, and the onset of the global pandemic. Paul, who first revealed her talents as a writer with her memoir, Self-Portrait, enters with courage and resolve into new unguarded territory–the artist at present–and the work required to make art out of the turbulence of life. 

This program is presented through the generosity of the Terry F. Green 1969 Fund for British Art and Culture.

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Photo of Celia Paul by Alice Mann