Machines for seeing with… | Brunette Coleman

I’ve long been interested in the work of post-war British painter Prunella Clough, that abstract chronicler of the grimy and the shopworn, so I jumped at the chance to see more of her in this exhibition.

It’s in a new gallery space, up some stairs in a damp, shabby building next to Holborn library: a very Clough location. The painting of hers on show, Sequence, is a late work from 1992 - she died seven years later. It shows a series of marching powder-blue shadows set against a vanilla-yellow sky.

Prunella Clough ‘Sequence’ (1992)

Above is a sun-like, or maybe UFO-like object, stencilled and gridded, flecks of paint between the lines like rainbow-coloured oil on water. This is typical Clough: the colour fields set off by closer patterns, the smooth paint offset with bumps and cross-hatches, the mysterious semi-abstract forms, the subdued palette. After thirty years, the surface is a bit cracked, deepening the patina.

This work is on loan - other new paintings, from two young London-based artists, Shiwen Wang and Barbara Wesłowska, are for sale. They both share Clough’s dim-lit palette, her interest in different textures of paint.

They’re supporting acts for the main event, in this mildewy room, up this quiet staircase, in the middle of the city the artist made her home.

By the way, the exhibition’s title is from the painter Patrick Heron, who described Clough’s work as follows: “Her paintings are machines for seeing with. It is impossible, after contemplation of them, to be aware of the street, the yard, the facade, as existing in any formal patterns other than those one’s eyes have just enjoyed savouring, as one’s gaze crossed and recrossed the endlessly subtle surfaces of her canvases.”

The staircase certainly looked different to me on the way down than it did on the way up!

Machines for seeing with… is at Brunette Coleman (London). 02 - 30 September 2023