Several of Clough’s compositions, such as we see in Manhole II, exhibit both figurative and abstract qualities, simultaneously. While descriptive and decorative colour is avoided, her use of umber, ochre and burnt sienna communicates the raw and physical nature of the man’s work. The appeal was so acute that she frequently produced more than one version, sometimes an entire series, of these worker subjects. Rounded forms, in this case the man’s cap which visually rhymes with the manhole, physically link him with the object of his exertions. These circular motifs feature in many of her 'ubscapes' and derive from oil and cable drums, coils of rope or storage barrels.
Oblique I, 1978 Oil on canvas Signed verso 76 x 76 cm (29¾ x 29¾in)
For paintings such as Oblique I, inspiration came from surprising and unexpected sources. Clough’s ‘source photos’ and sketchbooks indicate that a patch of worn paint or tarmac might generate an entire painting. Thermoplastic road markings on a familiar walk, could easily find themselves rearranged and transferred to one of her paintings. Similarly, a row of twisted, steel rebars sticking out of a reinforced concrete wall, could catch her eye. The random positioning of the hook profiles set up a curved rhythmic idea that contrasts with the more angular, geometric patterning.
Gordon Samuel and Gerard Hastings discuss Clough's Oblique I, 1978
A curious feature of Clough’s technique was not only the manner in which she applied pigment, but also the way in which she removed it from the surface of her canvasses during the course of her work; this was part of a never-ending quest to create interesting textures. Pigment would be scraped and gouged off while still wet or, even after it had dried, abrasive scourers would be used to scratch it away.
Grid, 1973 Oil on canvas 48.5 x 65 cm. (19 ¼ x 25 ½ in.)
Study for Grid, 1973
Clough was obsessed with grids. She was drawn to geometric frameworks and uniformly repeated apertures since they possessed a logical structure and assisted in the organization of some of her compositions. As she began work on a painting, the imposition of a regular grid of marks helped pin down and fix the pictorial forms as they began to appear. She worked mark against mark, generally in an improvisatory manner, picking out a smear or a smudge of paint with an outline or capitalizing on an accidental stain. These forms were invariably incorporated within the overlall emerging structure.