Factories & the Working environment

The late 1940s and 1950s were a time of regeneration and rebuilding following the war and large areas of Britain were covered with building sites. Having painted Lowestoft fishermen for some years and made use of their netting and tackle as pictorial ingredients, Clough turned her attention inland, towards the labourers, lorry drivers and builders of the inner city. Men and women were represented emblematically and not with individual personalities; their manual labour describes and defines them as extensions of their working environments.

As places associated with work Clough felt at ease in factories, dockyards, warehouses and construction sites. Her interest in the grime and grind of manual labour had its origins in the war effort of the previous decade, where the notion of a fully occupied and working population was not only encouraged by the state, but acquired a new-found sense of dignity for the individual. Places of work became treasure troves where surprisingly and unexpectedly useful shapes revealed themselves to Clough. A factory gate, the geometry of a towering crane, angular piping, heaps of scrap or peeling plaster could arouse her aesthetic curiosity and these textures and shapes appeared in her paintings.

Clough made dozens of prints, drawings, photographs and paintings of cranes. They were a source of continual fascination for her, towering above inner-city construction sites silhouetted against the skyline of the riverside docklands. Much of their visual appeal lay in their abstract, formal, geometric framework. This supplied ready-made and interesting configurations for her picture making and their massive structures also carried a pronounced and vital presence. Being associated with labour and the act of construction, of course, meant they became irresistible pictorial motifs for her. Once back in to studio, these visual and written notations fused together with her recollections as she worked them out with pigment on the surface of her paintings.

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Dockland Cranes I, c. 1950 Charcoal and pencil on paper. Signed lower right 14 x 13.1 cm. (5 ½ x 5 ¼ in.)

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Thameside Cranes, c. 1950 Charcoal and pencil on paper. 38 x 30.2 cm. (15 x 12 in.)

"When I was painting factories and lorry drivers in the fifties, it seemed that there were innumerable situations in which one saw people in ways that had never been realized pictorially. Specifically I could relate a ladder or a lorry driver’s truck to the surrounding landscape because both were industrial products and part of an industrial landscape."
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Lorry with Ladder I, c.1952 Oil on canvas Signed lower right 52 x 50 cm. (20 ½ x 19 ⅝ in.)

Gordon Samuel and Gerard Hastings discuss Clough's Lorry with Lady I, c. 1952

"The lorry driver paintings were an attempt to introduce the figure into a contemporary urban landscape without the devices of the past, without the myths of Mars and Venus or the legends of Breughel. I was trying to update the classical Western concern with the figure without the benefit of religious or mythical context. That’s is why the lorry drivers were in their cabs, because the lorry was so much a part of the mechanical landscape and provided a link with it."
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Barrels in a Yard, c.1954 Oil on canvas 51 x 36 cm. (20 x 14 ⅛ in.) Framed size 64.5 x 49 cm. (25 ⅜ x 19 ¼ in.)

Clough’s left-wing leanings reveal themselves in her exploration of the relationship between worker and workspace; the accoutrements and tools of labourers and factory workers were often treated as physical extensions of them and described in the same colours and textures as their environment. The figures in both versions of Barrels in a Yard focus our attention on the middle distance while acting as guardians of their encased freight. The use of abstracted backgrounds and settings not only provides pictorial structures but also context and scale. Clough supplies few site-specific details other than the barrels, generating the possibility that we could be looking at a dockyard, a pub or a factory. The restricted palette of dirty creams, violets and blue-greys unifies the compositional elements and evokes the atmospheric grime of the loading yards. A single chromatic highlight, provided by the circular, acid yellow of one of the barrels, or the blue-green patch on a background gate, is typical of Clough’s use of colour, employed to sing out and enliven what would otherwise be completely monochromatic images.

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Barrels in a Yard, c.1955 Oil on canvas Signed lower right 47.5 x 35 cm. (18 ⅝ x 13 ¾ in.) Framed size 65 x 53 cm. (25 ½ x 20 ⅞ in.)

Wastelands and urban dereliction delivered a series of ready-made, new shapes, colours and textures and a catalogue of visual information with which to create paintings. Clough employed colour economically, making it sing out from within the grids and meshes of her painted textures.

"It helps, perhaps, that so much of industrial material is already abstract. Also you do not have to walk far to take a refresher course. It is because it is there, it is as simple as that."
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Landscape with Cable Drum, 1957 Oil on canvas 31 x 51 cm. (12 ⅛ x 20 in.)

Clough’s imagery became increasingly abstracted over the course of the 1950s, though she claimed that...

"Nothing that I do is ‘abstract’. I can locate all the ingredients of a painting in the richness of the outside world, the world of perception."
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Chemical Works II, 1959 Oil on canvas Signed upper left 76.5 x 61.5 cm. (30 x 24 ⅛ in.)

As Clough's use of colour acquired a monochromatic quality with highlights of subtle hues, her placement of form revealed an acute awareness of design principles. At first glance, the flattened forms and texture fields in paintings like Chemical Works appear to be wholly abstract inventions. However, they are rooted in observation and derived from things Clough saw or recalled. A maze of bent pipes, a tangle of wires, a circuit board could provide the required formal structure of a composition.

"The landscape which preoccupies me happens to be in its nature fairly geometric, like the crossed bars of a gate or the circular shape of an oil drum seen head-on. I find these basic shapes sympathetic."
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Industrial Interior 4, 1959 Oil on canvas Signed lower right 49 x 49 cm. (19 ¼ x 19 ¼ in.)

The curious shapes of pieces of tubing, taps, stopcocks and valves, which Clough observed in factories, appear in several prints and paintings of the 1950s. The raw, visual material that she collected in her notebooks and photographs underwent a rigourous transformation before they were locked into position and carefully composed into a pictorial configuration. The landscape that generally preoccupied her often contained configurations of a geometric quality, derived from the triangular gable ends of buildings, or the bars on a factory gate. Once included in her paintings, she frequently lamented the resulting, elegant composition...

"There is a vast discrepancy between the rawness of the original experience, walking around in any kind of urban wasteland, and the relatively tidied up and composed painting that comes from it. The trouble is that I have a lifetime’s preoccupation with construction, layout: the traditional checks and balances. I cannot throw any of that out."
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Five Studies of Pipes, 1953 Watercolour, pencil and charcoal 27 x 22.3 cm (10 ¾ x 9 in.)

Five Studies of Pipes is one of Clough's source drawings, made in situ while gathering visual information for her paintings. The twisting forms of stopcocks, cylinders and conduits soon began to take on a life of their own and acquire a dominating presence in her work.

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