RESEARCH: Prunella Clough

PRUNELLA CLOUGH UNCONSIDERED WASTELANDS Deserted Gravel Pit, c.1946 Oil on board

Deserted Gravel Pit, c.1946 Oil on board


Tate: Prunella Clough 1919-1999

Clough was an English painter, draughtsman and printmaker. She became an engineer’s draughtsman and mapper during the war. Much of her early work is focused on the urban landscape and images of machinery and labour. Towards the end of her life this changed to an interest in abstraction but always with a figurative base. Both her figures and mechanical images retain a flatness of form. She was however wary of abstract art that had no connection to the outside world but stressed the need to go on looking and experiencing things. Her abstract works often use bright, contrasting colours and sometimes found objects.

From Tate press release :

Prunella Clough devoted her career to finding beauty in unconsidered aspects of the urban and industrial landscape. Her focus on the minutiae of urban life, lorries and factory life, bright colours of plastics and rubbish in the streets, created images of beauty and the unknowable.

She believed that art can be made out of the ordinary and has a place in everyday life. An illustration of this can be seen in a sale of her art which she had from her studio in which she slashed all the prices and sold for amounts which were well below their worth. She always carried a notebook with her and spent her time filling the pages with details about what she was seeing and experiencing in the areas of housing estates and factories – Battersea power station, gasworks at Fulham, coke years at Woolwich, chemical works at Redhill. She collected visual memories, debris on a beach or the sighting of a faded maroon bridge, a padlocked gate, a rust stain, a street grill. She looked especially at things which created the remains of use, are blighted by time. Her affinity with bleakness and her disregard of anything which suggested prettiness may have been a reaction against her privileged background. She was descended from the Anglo-Irish aristocracy and was brought up in London’s Belgravia. The reaction to this started at a very early age when she began painting in Blackshore, a ramshackle collection of fishermen’s huts and then at the busy fishing port of Lowestoft.

She never belonged to any group or school …her work is distinctive and private

From ‘Prunella Clough regions unmapped’ by Francis Spalding

Another important influence on her work was poetry which she shared with her father. She was an avid reader and learnt how to read a musical score. Mostly her work is about the environment around her but in later life she also captured the landscape of the mind.. She was less interested in the representational appearance of things and more in the mood or atmosphere generated.

Page 27   ‘Surrealism had taught Clough that poetry could be found in unexpected conjunctions. It also altered her way of looking.’ Interesting quote from Andre Breton from catalogue entry for 1936 International Surrealist Exhibition: “ the artistic problem consists today in bringing a more and more objective precision to bear upon mental representation, by mean of the voluntary exercise of the imagination and the memory…” These two factors, poetry and Surrealism, brought into play the element of the ‘marvellous’, the mystery., which she seems to sum up in this quote frpm ‘Picture Post’ in 19949.

“Whatever the theme, it is the nature and structure of the object – that and seeing it as if it were strange and unfamiliar, which is my chief concern.”

Chapter 3 – page 47

“Each painting is an exploration in unknown country, or, as Manet said, it is like throwing oneself into the sea to learn to swim.” PG, ‘Picture Post’, 12 march 1949

Prunella Clough’s art gives us the feeling that we are in the presence of the overlooked, the forgotten, objects which we pass by and don’t see. This has been a fascinating research area coming at the end of Part 1 on exploring composition. I can see how Clough took the unexpected and created her paintings from the poetry and mystery she saw in them. This is an element of composition which I haven’t considered in my own work.



About pbfarrar

I am an Australian living permanently in England. I have recently retired from the position of Principal of an independent school and have taken up the study of Fine Art with the OCA.
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