Prunella Clough’s abstract, democratic art mapped a post-war urban world, says Andrew Mead
‘Anything that the eye sees with intensity and excitement will do for a start. A gasometer is as good as a garden, probably better,’ said the artist Prunella Clough who died in 1999 at the age of 80. That remark sets the tone for a retrospective exhibition of her work that is now at London’s Annely Juda Fine Art, just off Oxford Street. Except in some early pieces from the 1940s/50s, there are no depictions of specific places, but nonetheless her paintings are redolent of the urban environment and the landscape that the decline of traditional industries has left behind.
Clough was a great walker but her preferred routes were well off the capital’s tourist trail, taking her to such areas as Battersea, Willesden and Neasden. She liked scuffed and weathered surfaces, the textures of decay, but she was drawn also to the bright synthetic colours of a stack of plastic buckets outside a hardware shop. As in the painting Machine Scrap shown above, Clough often isolates objects against an almost monochrome ground; sometimes they’re recognisable but often more ambiguous as she blurs the boundary between still life and landscape. Her art is distinctly democratic and open-minded, implying that we shouldn’t sabotage our response to things through constrained notions of ‘good taste’. There are some 70 works in this show but they seldom settle into a formula. With her acute eye and painterly craft, Clough kept finding the world a surprise.