VISUAL ARTS / Prunella Clough and David Carr Austin Desmond Fine Art, London

Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online
VISUAL ARTS / Prunella Clough and David Carr Austin Desmond Fine Art, London

David Carr was a gentlemanly sort of painter. As heir to the Peek Frean fortune he was headed for the family biscuit business, until a holiday in Italy in the late 1930s diverted him towards more aesthetic pursuits. To his family's displeasure, he followed his whim at Cedric Morris's East Anglian School of Painting and Drawing, where his fellow students included the young Lucian Freud.

We are only offered a glimpse of his work here but, on this evidence, his earliest pictures were the most successful: hard-edged, slightly childlike images of fisher-folk cleaning nets and, best of all, a self portrait In the Bath, painted in the mode of young Freud, but without the brilliant intensity that sets Freud's work apart. Carr's later pictures seem even more indebted; this time to Prunella Clough, whom he came to know in the late 1940s and who remained a close friend for the rest of his life.

Clough, on the other hand, was always a more original artist. There were shades of Picasso early on and Tapies a little later, but even in her first figurative paintings there are signs of the fine abstract painter that she has since become. This exhibition is restricted to work made in and around the 1950s, a decade in which British art was dominated by the debate between figurative and abstract painting - the mirror and the square.

Clough's was one of the quieter voices in this debate but, as time has passed, it looks like one of the most convincing. Even in her earliest still lives there is a sense of abstraction in the details. She has a way of achieving density through layers of scrubbed paint so that not quite a single colour remains, rather a shifting darkness. It is a subtle and very satisfying quality.

Like Carr, she painted at Lowestoft in the late 1940s, shown here by two similar paintings of Nets and Anchor: open-air pictures in muted greens and greys and browns, broken by flashes of brick-red and purple and the pale blue of the sky. Another Lowestoft picture, painted in 1954, is harder to read, but the sense of place is recognisably the same. Planes of greyish paint fill most of the picture space, but in the top right a panel of blue suggests the sky and a stripe of red the hull of a boat.

It works by suggestion; there's very little to get hold of, but still you know exactly where you are.

To 14 Aug (info: 0171-242 4443) Richard Ingleby

Comments