Prunella Clough liked to explore the train yards at Willesden Junction: quite a messy and down-at-heel place these days, but surely an absolute decrepit dump in the post-war years in which she started working. From a wealthy background, she spent much of her career teaching at the Chelsea School of Art. But her own artistic output focused on semi-abstract paintings and prints of grimy, industrial and forgotten corners of London.
The span of the career’s on show in this impressive exhibition. It starts with a couple of early works - including a shopworn factory floor, overlaid with browns and beiges, industrial wares teetering in piles. It made me think of all of the thrusting hope of pre-war Futurism, that clean kinetic energy slowly grinding to a halt. There’s a striking stillness to Clough’s work.
Factory Interior (Wool Carding Shop), 1954
As the years went on - Clough died in 1999, and worked to the end - the paintings break free of representation, but retain the prevailing mood, and, mostly, the colour palette. She shifted from city scenes to a tighter focus: city shapes and city textures. My favourite was Mesh with Glove I, a thick gridded overlay on top of rainbow colours - though the type of rainbow colours that come with spilt oil.
Mesh with Glove I, 1980
Looking closer, the irregularity of the grid is revealed to be caused by the paint being worked and worked, scored with angry cross-hatches. Clough clearly spent a lot of effort on capturing these patterns.
I visited the exhibition on a bright sunny day, which meant hard blank white light came in through the skylight of this top floor gallery. I should return when it’s cloudy if I can: Clough’s small, quiet, evocatively dull works seem made for those times - a dismal afternoon late autumn, with the heat and fun of summer spent.
The exhibition’s a joint show with Alan Reynolds, another prominent figure from British 20th century abstraction, whose clean concrete art was probably better suited to the weather, but didn’t grab me so much. Another interesting counterpart is down the road at Hauser & Wirth at the moment, where Frank Bowling is showing. His works deal with urban detritus on a much larger scale.
Prunella Clough and Alan Reynolds is at Annely Juda Fine Art (London). 11 May - 31 July 2021