March 31– May 19, 2012
Charles Clough: The Way to Clufffalo will be an in-depth survey for an artist whose experiments with paint applications are often filtered through an array of media and information technologies. It will also consider Clough’s career in relationship to the critical role Buffalo has played throughout the second half of the twentieth century in nurturing experimental cultural production from Abstract Expressionism onwards. Organized by UB Art Galleries Curator Sandra Q. Firmin, The Way to Clufffalo chronicles Clough’s lifelong artistic pursuit that he refers to as PEPFOG, an acronym for the “photographic epic of a painter as a film or a ghost.” The exhibition will feature over 100 collages, paintings, artist books, sculpture, and video, drawn primarily from public and private collections in Western New York, that illuminate 40 years of artistic production. A significant donation of more than 400 Clough works to the UB Art Galleries by renowned art collectors Herbert and Dorothy Vogel will constitute a major portion of the exhibition.
In 1974, Charles Clough, along with Robert Longo and Cindy Sherman, was one of the founding members of Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center. From its inception, Hallwalls took a multidisciplinary approach by staging music and art performances, poetry readings, artist lectures, and art exhibitions. Within this melting pot of ideas, Clough began to experiment with the interrelationship between painting and its mechanical reproduction.
When Hallwalls came into being, Clough made the most of the raw industrial space by gluing cutout photos of his eyes enhanced with paint, to the brick walls to create the eerie effect of people being watched by a presence hidden in the walls. His exuberance for Abstract Expressionism, however, was always foremost in his mind. In 1973, he recalls buying “a large variety of hardware and five-and-dime store type colored liquids: paints, sealers, cosmetics, etc, which I randomly applied to paper and wood and then partially removed with a grinder.” His early experiments in installation included a series of irregularly-shaped collages featuring painted-over magazine clippings that he adhered to the walls like decals. In these paintings, the slick images of products, people, and places emerge and disappear in Technicolor infernos of quickly applied paint.
In 1978, Clough left Buffalo for New York City. There he embarked on his C-Notes — made by finger-painting on top of art book reproductions that he then enlarged as color photographs and repainted, loosening the compositions of art historical giants like Titian into playful swathes of color. Elevating finger painting to new esoteric heights, Clough was commissioned by the Brooklyn Museum in the mid-1980s to create a painting for their cavernous lobby. His solution to tackling the immense scale of the space was to invent the Big Finger tools: industrial-sized paintbrushes topped with discs of varying shapes and sizes and used to spread high-gloss enamel onto large-scale canvases and sheets of masonite. “The big finger paintings, with their cosmic vastness, vortices, and stormy appearances, channel the sublime energy of awesome, spiraling universal forces that also captivated Romantic painters such as Caspar David Friedrich and J.M.W. Turner in the nineteenth century,” says curator Sandra Q. Firmin.
Clough’s most recent undertaking returns to his interest in the aura of the painting and its reproduction to explore issues of time, authorship, authenticity, and appropriation; as well as how art accrues value and circulates in the art world. O My Goodness, shown at White Columns in 2010, consists of a single painting; a series of painted, photographic, inkjet print “portraits” of the painting; a book; and a movie. The core of the project is a painting on masonite that sequentially cycles through a Janson’s-style history of world religions through art, starting with a scratchy, black cosmic void that morphs into a cave painting. From there, Clough incrementally grinds down the image and overlays it with his characteristic expressionistic abstractions before painting another iconic image. Making use of the ease of digital photography, this process was recorded in 3,749 photographs, resulting in a flipbook-like movie that condenses the last 32,000 years of human cultural production into a short film. The final painting functions as a palimpsest and poignant meditation on the passage of time.
Clough’s work has been extensively shown since the early 1970s, including solo shows at White Columns, New York (2011); Nina Freudenheim Gallery, Buffalo (2009); the Brooklyn Museum (1994); Grand Salon, New York (1993); American Fine Arts Co., New York (1990); and the Jack Tilton Gallery, New York (1985), among others. His work is also included in more than 72 public collections, including the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; and the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., to name a few.
Support for the exhibition has been provided by Schuele Paint Company, Inc.