Clough spent many years on the Suffolk coast and the landscape there began to interest her from an early stage. Her parents took family holidays at Southwold and the desolation of the extensive beaches, surrounding marshes and barren fields attracted the young artist.
She took walks alone through the dunes to collect bleached bones, interesting bits of rusting metal and all manner of flotsam and jetsam along the shoreline. During the war the character of the coastline changed when strange, concrete defences tank began to appear along stretches of the Lowestoft and Blytheborough beaches. Tubular scaffolding sprouted up in the dunes as anti-tank contraptions. These peculiar forms appeared in Clough’s dream-like landscapes.
“If I was on a desert island with a bit of charcoal I’d probably be perfectly happy, because I do have a sense of line and I could make marks with my charcoal.”
Study for Sea Composition, 1940 Gouache, watercolour & pencil on paper Signed lower right 27 x 19.4 cm. (10 ½ x 7 ½ in.)
Study for Sea Composition is a preparatory work for Clough’s first signed and dated oil painting of any significance. It represents a shoreline still-life, comprising various objects discovered on walks along the north Suffolk beach: seaweed fronds, driftwood, shells, bleached bones, some washed-up netting and pieces of rusted metal. The dreamlike atmosphere to this assemblage of objets trouvé demonstrates the effect that Surrealism had on the young Clough. Even at this formative stage, we already observe many of the ingredients that she celebrated in her later work including a fascination with discarded objects, an accumulation of disparate, seemingly unrelated forms, a love of interesting textures and surfaces and, above all, a re-invention of a well-known genre.
Untitled, c.1940 Pen, ink, wash & collage on paper 37 x 27 cm. (14 ½ x 10 ½ in.)
Clough used a combination of inventive materials to create this curious pictorial presence, including collage, pen and ink drawing, frottage and wash. The strange, dream-like forms that she describes probably had their origin in many of the bizarre, coastal defences that were erected up and down the British coastline during the war. She is known to have painted several of them, (like several other painters at the time, including Paul Nash) struck by their incongruous appearances. We can, perhaps, trace the textured, disc-like form back to the giant listening dishes and concrete ‘sound mirrors’, which were erected facing out to sea on cliff tops and other strategic sites. The influence of Surrealism on the twenty-one year old artist has also had an effect on her use of imagery, since the structure resembles an attenuated figure, draped in netting, towering over some sort of wrecked or damaged form. The undulating, largely featureless, landscape adds to the hallucinatory atmosphere.
Even after the War Clough drew inspiration from her walks along the tide line on the beach at Southwold, where she escaped whenever she could. Wandering in the landscape provided the opportunity to gather both her thoughts and an interesting collection of objets trouvé. The tide washed up endless material which she used in her paintings and lithographs.
Breakwater, 1946 Chalk and gouache on paper Signed lower right 35.5 x 20.5 cm. (14 x 8 in.)
A single form dislocated within in a landscape was also a theme which several other painters were exploring at the time, including Sutherland and the Neo-Romantics Vaughan, Minton and Craxton. A good deal of Clough's interest in these objects, brought by chance into the landscape, was their transformation at the hands of nature. Tide and time, sun and wind eroded and bleached them as a natural process of decay took place. Her paintings became emblematic of passing time and functioned like traditional momento mori images.
"I see my subject mainly as landscape, but the kind of landscape I am dealing with is something I cannot match up to…
I have the mind of a northern romantic which tends towards the atmospheric…
This is maybe the wind and the weather of English, and not just northern, romanticism."
Deserted Gravel Pit, c.1946 Oil on board Signed lower right 39 x 49 cm. (15 ⅜ x 19 ¼ in.)
Shown in her first exhibition in March 1947 at the Leger Galleries, Deserted Gravel Pit demonstrates Clough’s shifting interest towards man-made environments such as quarries or, in this case, a gravel pit. Twisted, red forms of sea wreckage and the remnants of beach defences suggest presences inhabiting this, otherwise, abandoned landscape. They act as markers of man’s presence, now rusted and corroded by the elements.
Beach Sunset, c. 1964 Watercolor, oil pastel, wax crayon and collage 37.8 x 35.5 cm (14¾ x 14 in)
Whenever she was not painting Clough produced drawings. Many of these are made with combinations of several materials including printing techniques, pencils, wax crayons, oil pastels, collage and ink. Whatever was close to hand was inevitably incorporated into the drawing process. Hovering between abstraction and figuration, Beach Sunset represents the setting sun viewed across an open, pink foreshore. Curious forms, textures, scratches and scrubbings convey her vigourous and dynamic method of working.