(B. 1965)

British painter Clive Head adopts the precise techniques of Photorealism, but his subtly altered street and cafe scenes reveal an artist more concerned with the possibilities of the imagination than a transcriptive presentation of photographic truth. The artist’s latest work combines photographic detail with a fractured structure, reminiscent of analytic Cubism. This fracturing introduces a filmic element to the paintings, presenting the viewer not with a static composition but rather with a time-lapse portrait of an entire scene. In these works Head finds intimate moments amid busy streets, capturing an enigmatic interiority in his subjects. 

Widely considered the leading realist painter of his generation in the U.K., Clive Head has had a desire to create since his youth. At 11 he began attending Reeds Art Club, a social and artistic gathering of people from his neighborhood held at the paper mill where his father worked. Head found he possessed a joy for making and was able to draw naturalistically before he was able to read. In 1983 he began studying for a degree in fine arts at UCW Aberystwyth under the tutorship of abstract painter David Tinker. Taking both fine art classes and art history courses, almost ten years later this intellectual foundation became fundamental in his creation of the Fine Art Department at the University College Scarborough (York University).

During his time at University College Scarborough, Head worked in a neo-classical figurative style, and by the end of the millennium shifted to creating urban realist paintings, a style reminiscent of his student work at UCW Aberystwyth. After leaving teaching in 2000, Head had his first major exhibition at Harry Blain Gallery, London. This show marked the beginning of a cascade of success, and within a decade Head would exhibit select works at the National Gallery, London, a show that received uncharacteristic coverage and drew the largest ever audience for a living artist. Two years later, Head’s installation at the Dulwich Picture Gallery again brought unanticipated attendance. (1) This chain of success is in part due to the unique style of painting Head employs, one that is recognizable to the viewer, yet not relatable. 

Head’s striking style of painting is often categorized as Photorealism, but unlike many of the Photorealist painters, Head does not depict a singular moment in time. Instead, his urban landscapes represent multiple perspectives within multiple timelines. Head describes this as his depiction of “human activity,” he captures the likeness of a place

 

as people move through the space. (2) This technique imbues the paintings with an energy and vitality born from looking closely at his environment.

To achieve this Head steeps himself in the location he is to paint for a prolonged period of time: sketching, photographing, listening, and absorbing his surroundings. When his paintings are complete the viewer will immediately notice a subject that has been fragmented, as if glimpsed through a prism or a skewed time-lapse. There is no one vanishing point, but rather what Head calls “vanishing zones,” which evolve organically as he paints. This palimpsest composition is what distinguishes Head’s work from other Photorealist painters. “The need to transcend a mundane realism was expressed even if the work itself had not sufficiently lost its grip on reality.” (3) The realistic yet twisted reality presented to the viewer contradicts known reality and presents instead a different perspective of the world. The image displayed would be impossible to see naturally, and this contradiction of realistic images within unrealistic bounds is what elevates Head’s work.

In addition to painting, Head maintains a practice in many artistic avenues. He finds that writing often aids in the development of new paintings, and has contributed to scholarly catalogues and regularly reflects on his own work in prose. Head’s skills as a printer are of equal caliber, and it has been said, “he has demonstrated a rare mastery of etching.” (4) His prints can be found in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum, among others.

 

1. About. (2017, April 14). Retrieved August 20, 2017, from https://clivehead.com/about/.
2. Head, Clive. "Calder's Ascension." Clive Head Artist. April 2017. Accessed August 20, 2017. https://clivehead.com/writings/.
3. Ibid.
4. About, from https://clivehead.com/about/.

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