Charles Clough, "More Is Never Enough," Oct. 22-Nov. 14, 1998, at Tricia Collins Contemporary Art, 83 Grand Street, New York, N.Y. 10013.
The painter Charles Clough is best known for high-gloss expressionist paintings that elevate bravura brushstrokes to technicolor heights. In his exhibition last fall in New York, aptly titled "More Is Never Enough," Clough augmented the selection of seven new paintings with a group of five sculptures, 10 pairs of stereographic photographs and a digitized movie made of 1,029 individual postcard-sized finger paintings. The installation suggests that the artist, like so many of his colleagues who came of age in the late 1970s, is a conceptualist at heart.
In place of the brush and other typical painter's tools, Clough uses an instrument he calls the "Big Finger," a large balloon-like contraption that he invented to spread poured house enamel on masonite into broad gestural constellations. Each of these works measures about four by five feet. Their slick shiny surfaces are distinguished by their strokes and individual pools of color, and their frenetic compositions compel the viewer to take pause with each panel. Not since Hans Hofmann has an abstract expressionist been able to compose so well with the entire palette.
Think of the manic energy of a Jackson Pollock with the intellectual gumption of British painter Howard Hodgkin and you'll get what Clough is about. With obtuse titles such as Bevatron (a proton accelerator), Cataclasis (a metamorphic fracture and rotation in the grains of rock), or the Welsh word Sunket (which literally means "something"), the artist suggests a geological point of view. Would that be prehistoric, or just massive? Or maybe Clough is a geology buff (he is).
The sculptures are found stones placed on carefully designed wood pedestals. It's impossible not to consider the stones as mirrors of the gestures in his paintings. In the catalogue accompanying the show, he writes of how "irresistible" he finds "the thrust and endurance of geology's lifeless resistance." Others will recall Brassaï's brilliant photographs from the 1930s of "unconscious sculptures," and the 1,000-year-old "self-portraits of nature" seen in an exhibition in the summer of 1996 of Chinese Scholars' Rocks at the Asia Society Galleries in New York.
Clough's photographs seem to be simple color snapshots, slightly varied views of the same stone or trunk or bough butted side by side. Printed instructions in the gallery tell the viewer to stare at the pictures with crossed eyes, thus creating a 3-D effect. Indeed, it works rather well, considering. The movie is literally a "moving picture," with 1,029 variegating finger-painted images projected on a computer screen within a two-minute continuum. The thing is both a compressed digital replica of all those little paintings, while at the same time providing an irascible palette, a spontaneous combustion and encyclopedic knowledge that is fitting for the cyclonic whirligig of the Internet.