Anything could potentially feed into Clough’s creativity; she used whatever she could find and wasted nothing – least of all time. While walking up a street, her mind was fixed, one way or another, on her painting. The act of looking was a creative act in itself – she noticed the unnoticed and homed-in on disregarded visual incidents, abandoned objects and redundant forms.
She made curious connections, spotted incongruous juxtapositions, noted odd colour combinations and perceived poetry in chance placements. She collected, foraged, rummaged, gathered and hoarded; everything was potentially useful and seemingly insignificant things, very often, made their way into her paintings and collages. A piece of old bubble wrap might be useful to make a soft-ground etching, the dropped glove of a workman was suggestive of a human presence on an otherwise deserted construction site or a pattened shoe insole could supply a decorative motif for a collage. Even the most inappropriate items, including kitchen scourers pieces of corrugated cardboard or old beer mats might be translated into an art object.
Bone Drawing, 1949 Oil on board 25.5 x 33 cm. (10 x 13 in.)
Fascinated by objects found on her walks, including shells, fish bones and sun bleached skulls, Clough took them back to her studio to draw and paint them. Sometimes the process was slow and deliberate as she infused her subjects with subtle emblematic qualities. Several paintings from the mid and late forties, such as Dead Bird, (1945/6) and Bone Drawing, (1949), are preoccupied with death and decay. Her ability to infuse her found objects with symbolic intensity was especially pronounced during the years following the war. The seeds of many of Clough’s later pictorial characteristics can be located in her early, representational works such as subdued and subtle colour combinations (burnt orange, pale bone colours, umbers), well-worked textures and strong design elements.
Mesh 3, 1981 Oil on canvas Signed verso 127 x 153 cm. (50 x 60 ⅛ in.)
Meshes and grids feature in many of Clough’s paintings. These networks and lattices function as stable, textured surfaces against which she could float mysterious objects. These derive from various sources including the inner-city industrial wastelands, which she began to frequent. Here she took note of tangles of wires and cording and sheets of rusting steel used to reinforce concrete structures. She took great pains while building up these webbed backgrounds and commandeered various tools to assist with the process. The hardware shops and stalls on the North End Road provided her with chicken wire and sheets of perforated hardboard which she rolled with paint and pressed, while still wet, against the canvas surface. Alternately she used them as templates through which to dab and rub pigment.
Over a period of time, satisfying surface textures would appear as Clough fashioned interesting foreground forms to hover and float above them. Her note books and sketch books are filled with random doodles and outlines made while investigating these surprising and ambiguous forms. The trace of an object, or its indirect presence interested her rather than direct representation. A love of visual ambiguity and half-recalled objects became a characteristic of her painting. Profiles, shadows, silhouettes are invariably positioned to create maximum pictorial tension.
Untitled 2, 1967 Oil on canvas Signed verso 111.5 x 102 cm. (43 ⅞ x 40 ⅛ in.)
Clough’s later works are preoccupied with urban and industrial landscapes. Dozens of these paintings are untitled. This is not because she failed to name them but because she felt that a title was unrequired. Sometimes works were allocated very specific and deliberate titles which, when considered in conjunction with the imagery, intentionally direct the viewer’s response to the painting.
At other times, her motifs were so rich and suggestive that the painting remained nameless. Some untitled works from the 1960s have characteristics in common such as the suggestion of a horizon line on which large, box-like forms hang. These are often in-filled with horizontal stripes, tiers and layers. The initial impulse may have come from a mark on a wall or a texture on a pavement. Sometimes the sandwiching of coloured stratum carries suggestions of landscape or the cross-section of a geological structure. Clough maintained that landscape was at the heart of most of her painting and that she employed colour ‘intuitively with no conceptual or intellectual control or understanding.’
"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."
Broken Vane is representative of Clough’s late style with an ‘all-over’, textured field operating as a background on which she has superimposed a curious, decorative or interesting form. During the 1990s a new-found minimalism dictated the way she created her compositions as she pared away pictorial elements. Here a very specific title directs our thoughts towards some sort of damaged, mechanical device which is operated by wind or rushing air.
Broken Vane, 1994 Oil on canvas Signed verso 111.5 x 101 cm. (43 ⅞ x 39 ¾ in.)
The circularity of the design brings to mind a fan or propeller and this is reinforced by the light airiness of the surrounding space. Nevertheless, the imagery remains loose and ambiguous enough to allow other possibilities and interpretations. While creating her ‘background’ fields, Clough frequently produced uniform textures with neutralized colours and restrained brushwork, while discrete, chromatic shifts and feathery application generate layers of shifting, translucent textures.
During the 1990s Clough produced a series of collages and paintings made with the assistance of string, rope, cord and even typewriter ribbons. These were variously rolled or steeped in paint and then pressed against the surface of the canvas. Marks she considered useful were retained and enhanced while others that failed to meet with her approval, were obliterated.
Cord 2, 1995 Oil and sand on canvas Signed verso 70 x 55 cm. (27 ½ x 21 ⅝ in.)
Snake like-forms and meandering lines flow across the surface of these paintings connecting forms or providing guy ropes with which to tie the composition together. These sparse, though carefully positioned forms generate some curious visual effects. If an idea was rich enough, or if Clough found herself unable to break off from an interesting train of thought, she would go on investigating it in several paintings simultaneously, producing an entire series of related works.