Celia Paul: Memory and Desire

Celia Paul,Victoria Miro

Victoria Miro presents Memory and Desire, an exhibition of new paintings by Celia Paul.

Celia Paul’s art is founded on deep connections – familial, creative, threading back and forth across time – to people and places, and is self-assuredly quiet, contemplative and ultimately moving in its attention to detail and intensely felt spirituality. This exhibition of new paintings coincides with the publication of Letters to Gwen John, a new Jonathan Cape book by the artist that centres on a series of letters addressed to the painter Gwen John (1876–1939), who has long been a tutelary spirit for Paul. 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.
Completed while writing Letters to Gwen John, in which Paul describes her first exhibitions in America, her search for new forms, her husband’s diagnosis of cancer, and the onset of the global pandemic, the paintings on view share many of the book’s themes. The period from October 2020 to April 2021 was one of profound sadness for the artist. Paul worked in complete isolation and saw no one other than her beloved husband, Steven Kupfer, who died of cancer on 29 March 2021, the day lockdown restrictions began to lift. The title, Memory and Desire, is a reference to the opening lines of T.S. Eliot’s poem The Waste Land: ‘April is the cruellest month, breeding / Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing / Memory and desire, stirring / Dull roots with spring rain.’

In the new works, the artist addresses abiding subjects: self-portraits, the artist’s studio and a last portrait of her husband. Mountain-scapes, pathways and flowers also feature prominently, their presence acting as touchstones for thoughts about transience and mortality, grief, loss and the solace of nature’s renewal. Above all, Paul speaks to painting’s unique relationship to time, where kinship might be felt acutely, reaching deep into the past, and, equally, its sense of an enduring present – always being in the here and now, as an avenue of communication, place of conversation or co-existence.


Duration 06 April 2022 - 07 May 2022
Times Tuesday–Saturday: 10am–6pm.
Cost Free
Venue Victoria Miro London
Address 16 Wharf Road, London, N1 7RW
Contact 4402073368109 / info@victoria-miro.com / www.victoria-miro.com