C L I V E H E A D
“I rate him the first artist to create a visual language of the 21st century.”
- art historian, Michael Paraskos
Landau Contemporary is proud to present works by Clive Head in our inaugural online exhibition.
Head is widely regarded as the leading realist painter of his generation in the UK. His paintings are an optical fusion of perspective, layered space and conflated time, seamlessly integrated to create a representation that is both visually harmonious and conceptually chaotic.
To understand the evolution of Clive Head's work, we turn to his series of paintings based on the same café, the Cottage Delight at the South Kensington Tube Station in London. The first, Cafe at the Cottage Delight, painted in 2010, is a complex realist painting, but not photorealist. Rather, it resolves many of the challenges and limitations of photorealist painting.
“We’ve entrusted lens-based media to be the final word in realism, but in fact it is far from it.”
- Clive Head
Coffee at the Cottage Delight bends and expands space to show far more than could ever be seen from one fixed point or photographed, even with a wide-angle lens. The café provided Clive with an opportunity to observe and record living space and time on a surface where interior and exterior space, portrait and still-life subjects, as well as more distant urban elements intersect.
This seminal painting was included in a landmark exhibition held at the National Gallery, London in 2010, which featured the artist alongside the Renaissance Master Canaletto. The exhibition set an attendance record for a contemporary artist in Room One, a record that stands today.
"My interests were never limited to realism, and I had always regarded myself primarily as a modern painter, who could move across different stylistic concerns, so I decided to consider wider parameters within which to work, and revisit some of my earlier interests that lay dormant.”
- Clive Head
The café paintings were not conceived as a series. He returned to the Cottage Delight in 2012 not because the artist wanted to make a similar painting, but because the subject became an engine for seeing and engagement with space and the world. There is no sense of hierarchy between objects, ideas or perspective, they are all component forces whose relationships between each other and as a whole are constantly evolving in the mind and eye of the viewer.
Thinking about Georges Braque resulted from this continued exploration, which retained the cavernous space of earlier works but the artist wanted to stress the sense of immediacy in this work by placing the figure in the foreground on the same plane as the observer. Space is tipped and compressed in the foreground, and dispersed into several vanishing zones in the background creating spatial tension between the two poles. The palette range has also been extended to include an array of different pigments, and this enriched palette became a feature of all the subsequent paintings.
Black Glove is the second in the series which has more compressed activity, more figures in the foreground with the introduction of more secondary imagery. It appears to be a real scene, but the layering of secondary and subliminal images extend the narrative to one that is more comprehensively human. Surface qualities come into play, combining sight and touch as the guiding sensory experiences in the viewer.
These first two paintings grew into more fragmentary space that broke from an apparent seamless realism. The known modality of hyper-realist painting, in which these paintings fit, is replaced with something more elusive and difficult to categorize. As the artist noted: "Such painting is still realist, but it is a busy realism that acknowledges our constant state of flux."
Head could no longer be regarded as “one of those painters”. He was on his own. The metamorphic nature of painting itself became more dominant in determining a new realism where certainty was replaced with slippage. Yet, painting alone could not contain the endless possibilities that constitute the artist's interest in our experience, or in how an image might be formed.
"Printmaking is only relevant if it enables the artist to harness his own individuality. It’s so important for me as a printmaker to make the plate myself, to work with the materials, to see what can be done with those materials."
- Clive Head
Many of Clive's recognizable paintings, including those from the National Gallery Exhibition, have been etched by the artist's hand. In addition to After Balham Falls, Terminus Place and Arcade were similarly redrawn.
"Terminus Place the painting was not the end. I wanted to develop drawing further and reconstitute the space just through line. And so I turned to etching."
- Clive Head
Of these meticulously rendered works, the artist wrote: “I chose to make some very large etchings, drawing directly on to the plate and made entirely through line. They are the largest and most complex etchings attempted in recent times and were made with the master printer Simon Marsh. The first was acquired by the Victoria & Albert Museum.”
Head was born in Maidstone, Kent, in 1965, the son of a machine operator at Reed's Paper Mill. He had a precocious talent in art and in 1983, he began studying for a degree in Fine Art at the Aberystwyth University under the tutorship of the abstract painter David Tinker.
In 1994, Head founded and became the Chair of the Fine Art Department at the University of York's Scarborough Campus where he again teamed up with Steve Whitehead and became friends with the art theorist Michael Paraskos and the artist Jason Brooks. During this period most of the artist's work was in a neo-classical figurative style, and these were shown with Brooks at the Paton Gallery, London in 1995.
In 1999 Head gave up teaching and signed to Blains Fine Art (now Haunch of Venison Gallery) in London and Louis K. Meisel Fine Art in New York. In 2003, he joined Paraskos in taking part in the International Photorealist Project in Prague. The work produced was later exhibited in the United States. In 2005, he was commissioned by the Museum of London to produce a painting of Buckingham Palace to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of Elizabeth II.
That same year he was debilitated by a neurological disease that had a devastating effect on his muscles, and it took another five years for him to be diagnosed and treated for Dopa-Responsive Dystonia. During this time, however, he continued painting and the scale of his work became larger.
His work shifted again in 2014 when the Artist moved away from spatial mathematics and focused on more intuitive art, reminiscent of his days as a student in the 1980s when he painted under the tutelage of abstract painter David Tinker. Heads paintings from this time to the present have, "evolved into an overt palimpsest of spaces and colliding time-frames."
"The invention in painting always resides in its structure, not in the things that it shows but how they are shown. Except through inventing a different structure, reality will alter to the point where its definition slips. So painting is never just a formal exercise, it is always about creating a new subject."
- Clive Head
Notable Public & Private Collections
Imperial College London
Victoria and Albert Museum
Museum of London
Maria Lucia and Ingo Klöcker Collection
David Ross Collection
William Pears Group
Minneapolis Art Museum
Parrish Art Museum
Duke of Beaufort
Skip and Linda Law Collection
Louis K Meisel
Marcus Tellenbach Collection
Robert and Alice Landau
Dulwich Picture Gallery
Wilhelm Lehmbruck Museum
Museo Thyssen Bornemisza
City Art Gallery, Birmingham
Museo de Bellas Artes
Sainsbury Centre for Visual Art
Walker Art Gallery
Chiostro del Bramante
Peninsular Fine Arts Centre
National Gallery, London
We thank you for visiting our online exhibition. Please contact the gallery to find out more about this exceptional artist. Photos courtesy of the artist's studio.