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  • Published: 26 May 2022
  • ISBN: 9781787333376
  • Imprint: Jonathan Cape
  • Format: Hardback
  • Pages: 352
  • RRP: $65.00

Letters to Gwen John



A unique combination of memoir and artistic biography, interspersed with original artworks, from the acclaimed artist and author of SELF-PORTRAIT.

A unique combination of memoir and artistic biography, interspersed with original artworks, from the acclaimed artist and author of SELF-PORTRAIT.

We are both painters. We can connect to each other through images, in our own unvoiced language. But I will try and reach you with words. Through talking to you I may come alive and begin to speak.

Celia Paul has felt a lifelong connection to the artist Gwen John. There are extraordinary parallels in their lives and work. Both have always made art on their own terms. Both were involved with older male artists. Both worked hard to keep themselves and the sacred flame of their creativity from being extinguished by others.

Letters to Gwen John is Paul's imagined correspondence with Gwen John, whose life and work have loomed so large in hers. These intimate, passionate, haunting letters allow Paul to reach across eras, to weigh up the sacrifices she has made, and to explore the rich possibilities of a life apart. With illuminating insights into the life and work of Gwen John, Letters to Gwen John is a unique form of memoir and conversation, and an unforgettable insight into a life devoted to making art.

  • Published: 26 May 2022
  • ISBN: 9781787333376
  • Imprint: Jonathan Cape
  • Format: Hardback
  • Pages: 352
  • RRP: $65.00

About the author

Celia Paul

Celia Paul is recognised as one of the most important painters working in Britain today. She was born in India in 1959, before moving to England as a young child. Her major solo exhibitions include Celia Paul, curated by Hilton Als, at Yale Center for British Art (2018) and The Huntington (2019); Desdemona for Celia by Hilton, Gallery Met, New York (2015–16); and Gwen John and Celia Paul, Pallant House Gallery, Chichester (2012–13). Her work was included in the group exhibition All Too Human at Tate Britain (2018), and is in many collections, including the British Museum, National Portrait Gallery, Victoria and Albert Museum, Saatchi Collection and Metropolitan Museum, New York.

Also by Celia Paul

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Praise for Letters to Gwen John

A miraculous, door-opening book

Julia Blackburn, author of TIME SONG

Beautiful, tender, and riveting. I have taken this book into my heart.

Claire-Louise Bennett, author of CHECKOUT 19

Paul's prose is spare and luminous, revealing her painter's eye in attention to colour, texture, and depth... The included paintings, both John's and Paul's, are breathtaking. Fellow artists will relish this lucid look at what is required to "live and paint truthfully."

Publishers Weekly

Since the publication of her memoir, Self-Portrait, Celia Paul has become almost as famous for her writing as her art... [In Letters to Gwen John] the analogies between the two painters - solitary, spiritual, quietly magnificent - become even clearer.

Laura Cumming, Observer

Devastatingly honest... At once diary and confessional, biography and autobiography and something between the two... This book lets the reader into a world of sadness, loneliness and isolation. At its heart, however, is that unexpected kernel of confidence and self-belief that the author shared with Gwen John.

Honor Clerk, Spectator

It's a work of biography, analysis, reverence, and supplication, and it's filled with buoyant representations of both Paul's and John's work. A charge runs through it, the crackly static electricity of two connected souls touching hands across a century.

Hillary Kelly, Vulture

[An] intimate, immediate form of memoir [combined] with elements of biography and art criticism. The end result is a beguiling, singular work of art - a portrait of two lives, entwined through time and space... Paul's prose...glints and gleams on the page.

Lucy Scholes, Daily Telegraph

It is really Paul who's centre stage, and she is fascinating; I do not feel, at this point, that I could ever tire of her mind, and the unlikely, singular way it turns.

Rachel Cooke, Observer

An excellent new book. . . . In a nod to the epistolary novel, she addresses her letters to 'Dear Gwen.' It's a risky conceit, but as the intimacy grows - if not with John, then certainly with us - their clarity on the grammars of gender is compelling, and utterly contemporary. Truthfulness does not run one way, any more than power and vulnerability do.

Drusilla Modjeska, New York Times Book Review

Remarkable dialectics of loneliness and desire, of love and manipulation, that Paul handles with patient - even disarming - frankness... Alongside the imaginative biography of John, and alongside the dated journal entries, the book is also a foray into Paul's past. The effect is one of a dreamscape, a mesh of past and present, as the borders between the two female artists soften and start to give.

Victoria Baena, The Baffler

Celia Paul, in both her painting and her writing, is a formidable guardian of her own inner life, as well as a careful chronicler of what it means to traverse a boundary that is barely perceptible, hardly there at all, and yet is the place where truth emerges, hangs in the balance, is not quite distinguishable from a lie. Letters to Gwen John...is a profound act of truth-telling made possible by the thrilling risk of tarrying at that contested border. Paul's writing is a kind of ritual, as well as a pilgrimage, in which she leads us into those hidden places where understanding is beside the point, and invites us simply to dwell with her and whomever else she summons.

Artforum, Jack Hanson

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