Contributed by Jack Edson / A trip to Charles Clough’s studio, situated with his gallery and library on three floors of the historic Roycroft Print Shop in East Aurora, near Buffalo, New York, is always inspiring. I invariably see rooms full of art from the past and find new works headed in unexpected directions. On my visit last August, his vibrant new Slotted Sculptures blew me away. Displayed on long tables labelled “Clufffalo” (the idiosyncratically spelled phonetic melding of “Clough” and “Buffalo”), they evoke playful model-train layouts and are broadly aligned with the Roycroft Movement’s legacy of handcrafted works. At the same time, they move in their own direction, using the wild color schemes and dynamic shapes of Clough’s recent paintings. The freestanding pieces urge engagement, as viewers must walk attentively around them to digest all four sides. They constitute a genuinely thrilling advance.
A founder of Hallwalls Contemporary Art Center in Buffalo along with Robert Longo and Cindy Sherman in 1974, Clough has been making innovative art for 50 years. His approach embraces community. In 2015, some 150 people helped paint the 16-foot wide Clufffalo Hamburg, a public art work now installed in the skylit rotunda of the Hamburg Public Library, of which I was then director. Over the last eight years, he has invited visitors into his studio to add layers of pigment to a group painting, building thick strata of different colors that he carves into a final version, a hybrid of painting and sculpture. Clough is known mainly as a painter, having created an abundance of two-dimensional works with sizes ranging from business card to wall mural. But he has worked in sculpture before. Early pieces include Lightning Bolt made with Robert Longo, an untitled wooden figure based on photographs of the eyes of artist Diane Bertolo, and a circular saw blade.
For the Slotted Sculptures, Clough starts with prints of his paintings, affixed to both sides of expanded PVC pipe. The construction is simple and elegant. He cuts out two shapes, slots the pieces, and attaches them such that they intersect at a 90-degree angle. This technique leaves the pieces freestanding and offers several different views. They are only 12 to 15 inches in height. Yet they have a monumental presence: it is easy to picture them fabricated into huge signature pieces on an estate lawn or a museum entrance. Imagine them as large as the Picasso in Chicago’s Daley Plaza or Calder’s stegosaurus at the Alfred E. Burr Memorial Mall in Hartford, and you get the idea. The thrill comes from engaging fully with these pieces, walking around them as opposite sides of the colored areas compete until an optimal point of perspective reveals the full design of the whole connected piece.
Like most of Clough’s paintings, which number in the thousands, his sculptures incorporate his rich and varied aesthetic and emotional ideas. But the pieces also generously accommodate viewers’ own meanings and interpretations. Great themes emerge, faces can be uncovered, and figures are strongly present. The Slotted Sculptures are a notable leap forward in Clough’s art life. Visit his studio and see them firsthand.
Charles Clough’s studio, The Jerry and Barbara Castiglia Art Center, Roycroft Print Shop, 21 South Grove Street, East Aurora, NY. The Slotted Sculptures on display through September 18, 2023.
About the author: Jack Edson is a noted quilter and retired art librarian from Hamburg, NY.