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New book maps life of influential painter

A new book looking at the life and works of one of Britain’s most influential artists has been written by an eminent Newcastle University art historian.

Art history professor and biographer Frances Spalding was given unprecedented access to Prunella Clough’s archive and has spent three years researching her career and personal life.

Prunella Clough was one of the most original artists of the post-war period and painted up until her death in 1999. Although she was critically acclaimed and admired by her peers, it was only in her later years that she began to reach a wide public. Her work is well represented in many public collections, including the Tate, and has influenced many younger artists including Rachel Whiteread.

Professor Spalding’s book Prunella Clough: Regions Unmapped, examines her art but also key relationships between Clough and others, including the critic John Berger, the painter David Carr and her aunt, the famous designer and architect Eileen Gray.

Professor Spalding said: “What I find interesting about Prunella Clough is that she attended to aspects of urban and industrial life that are mostly overlooked if not deliberately ignored. She looked at things that bear the residue of use or are blighted by time. She was also interested in the working environment.  She came from a privileged background, yet went drawing in London’s docklands, in the busy fishing port at Lowestoft and inside factories. She painted a series of pictures based on lorry drivers in their cabs, and another of cooling towers.  She saw the interest and vitality in what others would consider mundane.’

“Her work changed as time went on and she became more abstract.  However, soHoHoweverhe was wary of abstract art that had no connection with the outside world. She stressed the need to go on looking and finding excitement in things, even if it was, as she told Simon Betts, an MA student at Chelsea, just a sweet paper on a pavement.

‘A lot of her work looks at what is now called  ‘edgelands’, the marginal areas where the boundaries between the urban and the rural become blurred. In this and in other ways she was ahead of her time.”

But it wasn’t just Clough’s work that interested Professor Spalding. “I wanted to look at her life and find out more about her,” she said. “She was very contained and rarely gave interviews and wasn’t really interested in publicity. She is said to have destroyed letters, but I was given access to her archive which contained much personal information. It revealed her long relationship with the artist David Carr which had in it and an important element of professional stimulus.

“Another key relationship was with her aunt Eileen Gray, who was an incredibly innovative architect and designer, an associate of Le Corbusier and very much ahead of her time. It is said that Corbusier was in some ways envious of her work. Clough looked up to her aunt as a role model, but as time went on their relationship, which remained close, reversed.”

Notes to editors:
For more information please contact Lyndsay Short, Newcastle University press officer on 0191 208 6067.

Prunella Clough: Regions Unmapped is published by Lund Humphries and will be available in March.

Professor Spalding has published 15 books including a centenary history of the Tate, a biography of the poet Stevie Smith, and other lives of the artists Duncan Grant, Vanessa Bell and John Minton, as well as John Piper, Myfanwy Piper: Lives in Art (2009).

 Pictured: Into View by Prunella Clough

published on: 2 April 2012