Room 1 at the National Gallery is normally worth a visit. It’s where, for free, you can see small but perfectly formed exhibitions that normally take one very simple idea, or one painting, and explore them a bit. It’s always immensely satisfying. In there now are three paintings by Clive Head that take the idea of London and give it a work out. The paintings each take a reasonably straightforward looking scene – the entrance to Victoria underground, a view around Haymarket, a coffee shop in South Kensington – and through altered perspectives and startling attention to detail bring life to these prosaic moments.
Head observes, takes photos and then draws everything together – creating what might almost be termed a cinemascope decisive moment painting. In bright, lovely colour. In the cafe there is almost someone staring back at the lens whilst other carry on – almost but not quite interacting. I especially love the detail of the Victoria station image as a couple stand back from the rain as the street cleaner carries on – we are almost caught on the stairs able to take everything in, as well as studying the t shirts on sale in the tourist tat shop.
There are other images from the series you can see online at Marlborough Art – as strong as those on show in the National Gallery they are all rare examples where I have to say that this style of painting has the potential to reveal more about ‘the street’ and its people than a photograph might. Its apparent simplicity rewards repeated viewings and it has a directness of message that is in many ways quite refreshing.
See my hazy image here. And for contrast here’s a cameraphone pic I took of a coffee in South Kensington. I’d say that Mr Head’s won this particular battle.