New Prunella Clough exhibition at Jerwood Gallery traces brilliant career of British great

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New Prunella Clough exhibition at Jerwood Gallery traces brilliant career of British great
Prunella Clough, Fishermen with Sprats, 1948. © Estate of Prunella Clough / DACS 2016.

HASTINGS.- Prunella Clough found beauty in the mundane and joy in the industrial landscape. Intrigued by overlooked and ignored spaces, this extraordinary British artist thought motorway hard shoulders and puddles on a desolate beach were exotic.

Now a new retrospective of her work is being staged by Hastings’ Jerwood Gallery, celebrating Clough’s early industrial and later experimental works in a new exhibition called Unknown Countries (opened 23 April).

“We’re highlighting the two major elements of her artistic practice,” explains Jerwood Gallery Director, Liz Gilmore. “For Undiscovered Countries we’ve sourced works from right across her career, with the earliest piece from 1944, to one that she completed two years before she died in 1999. Effectively, the exhibition encapsulates fifty years of her output.”

Appropriately for the gallery located on Hastings’ Stade, amongst the fishing boats and net huts of the historic Old Town, key works on display include Fishermen with Sprats, Trawl Net and Fisherman Carrying Tarpaulin representing her early fishing works.

In contrast, Back Drop, Electrical Installation I and Still Life reflect Clough’s move towards creating large scale, more abstract works in her later career. “Still Life is a wonderful example of her edgy, experimental 'found object' works” Gilmore adds.

Born in 1919 to a wealthy family with aristocratic forbears, Clough enrolled at the Chelsea School of Art in 1937 and from there, became a full-time artist. Wartime service was the only interruption in what would become a much-lauded career. She died 1999.

Shortly before she died, Clough won the prestigious Jerwood Painting Prize. The painting prize was awarded in recognition of an artist’s life’s work, not for individual artworks.

Although often referred to as ‘abstract’ - Clough vehemently refuted this description – her work became increasingly less figurative and representational as she got older. Her later work had a tendency to be larger and she also developed an interest in creating quirky 'found object' pieces. This exhibition will offer rare insights into Clough’s work through previously unseen archive material.

Although regarded by the cognoscenti as a major British artist of the 20th century, and recognised by a major retrospective exhibition at Tate Britain in 2007, Clough still has not received the attention and recognition that she deserves. “She was very reluctant to talk about her work, and often refused to promote and exhibit, and this may have contributed to her not getting the wider, public recognition that she deserved,” Gilmore explains. “Her work is still widely exhibited in commercial galleries such as Annely Juda Fine Art and Osborne Samuel but it has been nearly ten years since a major Clough retrospective has been staged.”

Gilmore hopes that the Jerwood Gallery show will go some way to establish Clough in the wider public consciousness: “She was an individual, unique, and endlessly experimental artist. Clough was one of the greatest British painters of the 20th century and has been compared, in terms of significance and inventiveness, to Georges Braque. Clough deserves to be better known and appreciated today. She inspired generations of artists and continues to do so. She was a painter’s painter.”

Prunella Clough (11 November 1919 – 26 December 1999) trained at Chelsea School of Art 1938 and during the Second World War worked in clerical and draughtsman’s jobs. Between 1946 and 1949 she painted in London and East Anglia and in 1947 she had her first solo exhibition at the Leger Gallery. Her work has since exhibited at leading London galleries including the Leicester, Grosvenor, New Art Centre and Annely Juda Fine Art, as well as internationally. Her work has been widely shown in group exhibitions and is represented in many public collections including the Tate Gallery. In 1960 a retrospective exhibition was held at the Whitechapel Gallery, London and in 1976 an Arts Council exhibition was held at the Serpentine Gallery.

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