London, 1919 – 1999
Charcoal and gouache on paper
Signed ‘Clough’ (lower right)
22.8 x 28 cm
Private Collection, United States;
Private Collection, United Kingdom.
R. Banks (ed.), Prunella Clough, London, 2003.
F. Spalding, Prunella Clough: Regions Unmapped, London, 2012.
B. Tufnell (ed.), Prunella Clough, London, 2007.
“Nothing that I do is abstract. I can locate all the ingredients of a painting in the richness of the outside world, the world of perception…If I take a thing from the real world, detach it and put it into a painting, something takes over that goes further than anything that I can logically describe or assess.”
(Prunella Clough, interview with Bryan Robertson, 1996)
Set apart from most of her contemporaries by her intense love of privacy, Prunella Clough figures nonetheless as one of the finest of London painters who, from the second half of the 20th century, effectively transformed British art.
Dating from one of the most fertile periods in Clough’s career, the present piece encapsulates the London artist’s main themes and preoccupations, investigated during a career that spanned over seven decades. Industrial Detail represents an almost abstract fragment rooted in those city-scapes that were closer to her heart – ones of docklands and industrial buildings which, by the end of World War II, in and out of London, had met with an inexorable decline. These “wastelands” Clough – born in an affluent upper-middle-class family (her aunt was the influential Irish designer Eileen Gray, with whom she collaborated) – unremittingly probed in a myriad of mediums, from oil painting to works on paper such as the present one, to assemblages of collected objects and lithographs.
Constantly experimenting with painterly techniques, Clough would toil as frequently on canvas as on paper. As noted by Susannah Woolmer, “Clough employed thick impasto, she daubed, she scraped, she gauged and scratched, she obliterated, experimenting with a variety of mixed media”, a modus operandi that can be appreciated in an inscrutable piece such as Industrial Detail.
In Clough’s work, fragments of urban landscape and relics of industrial machines, cranes, utensils are transposed into canvas or paper as quasi-still lives. In the early 1960s, and again throughout the 1980s, power stations and electrical plants (figs. 1 and 2) appear now and again as powerful bastions of a collective memory which already appeared neglected and overlooked. Her persistence and subject matter cannot but call to mind the equally relentless investigation of London of other post-War British painters such as Leon Kossoff and Frank Auerbach (fig. 3). In 1960, Clough had her first retrospective at the Whitechapel Art Gallery, and thereafter her work became more abstract, the human figure almost entirely disappearing. On that occasion, the art critic David Sylvester famously remarked: “the subjects are those of a social realist; the paintings are private and abstract” (quoted in Tufnell, op. cit., p. 95). Indeed, the contradiction between a socially-oriented subject matter and the extremely private countenance of an insecure but privileged personality resolved itself in works where objects are transformed “with increasing freedom and refinement” (idem) through long observation, which was carried out through multiple sketches that found their way into her “day books”.
Clough’s palette is often made of muted earth pigments, habitually employing tonalities of grey which are skilfully distributed in resolved pictorial forms intersected by verticals, horizontals, and circles. Thus, the present drawing allows the viewer to glimpse the structure of a window powerfully contrasting with the “full” and “void” shapeless, raw material in the foreground.
 S. Woolmer, “Prunella Clough: The Recent Exhibition at Olympia Shone Welcome Light on a Neglected Artist”, Apollo, 2004.
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