Prunella Clough, A small thing edgily
with works by Amy Sillman, Hayley Tompkins and Merlin James
curated by Camila McHugh
September 9 - October 30, 2021
Open Wednesday - Saturday, 12 - 6pm and by appointment
Prunella Clough (*1919-1999, London) set out to “say a small thing edgily,” an approach topainting that guided her practice, from her figurative representations of ports, lorries and pocketsof industrial wasteland in mid 20th-century England to her decisive shift to abstraction in theearly 1960s. This exhibition at June, the first presentation of Clough’s work in Germany, focuseson her shape-shifting abstraction, bringing together paintings made between 1960 and 1993.
To say a small thing edgily is to make a compressed statement, to remain open to contingency, topay attention to the scraps and fragments that litter everyday life. Clough likened the shapes thatshe sifted from her surroundings—debris on a beach, a rusted padlock, plastic toys, a stain on aconcrete wall—to “burrs stuck in the brain,” transmuting these vaguely abject forms in paint.Through persistent experimentation, Clough developed an ever-evolving system of signs: they’recumbrous, precarious, wayward, aloof. She played with mark and texture, sometimes gritting thesurface of the canvas with marble powder or ash, and usually worked in muted, earthen tones.Her careful compositions push at the boundaries of balance; they’re on the verge.
Prunella Clough’s abstraction developed largely out of step with any artistic movement or milieu:impervious to the advent of Pop, she was more taken by the Minimalism of Donald Judd and SolLeWitt, which may have accentuated her sense of restraint. Amy Sillman calls Clough “a“conceptual painter” avant la lettre”, Merlin James emphasizes how she “anticipated many traitsin post-modern painting.” Awarded the Jerwood Painting Prize in 1999 shortly before her death,and recognized with significant solo exhibitions at Annely Juda Fine Art Gallery (1989), theCamden Arts Center (1996) and a posthumous Tate Britain retrospective (2007), Clough’s legacyremains bogged down by emphasis on her early figurative works, tethering her innovativeabstraction too tightly to an industrial origin story. The smattering of shapes here is lifted fromthat context—punctuated by works by contemporary abstract painters Amy Sillman (*1955,Detroit), Hayley Tompkins (*1971, Leighton Buzzard, England) and Merlin James (*1960, Cardiff,Wales)—repositioning Clough’s edgy, idiosyncratic project as something radically understatedand subtly expansive.