Clive Head has continued to develop his art year-on-year from his realist beginnings in the 1990s. In these four works we trace how his depiction of female sitters - more specifically female sitters in an urban space - has evolved in line with his manner of painting and his preoccupations.


In the two earlier oil paintings, 'Forum' (2001-2003) and 'Rebekah' (2008), Clive has placed a single female figure at the very centre of the canvas, but with very different results.

  • 'Forum', 2001-2003
    In ‘Forum’ the faceless central figure, head bowed down over a book, is dwarfed by the city that surrounds her, the heightened trees that tower over her and the deliberately raised railings that hem her in. A demonstrably classical painting in subject and layout, the pre-supposed ‘realism’ is subverted by the distorted perspectives. As an aside, this goes some way to explain why Clive was always reluctant to be aligned with the photo-realist painters of his generation, preferring what he described as ‘magical realism’. With all his paintings the aim is to portray the lived experience of the scene rather than being a purely observational practice.

    'Forum', 2001-2003

  • 'Rebekah', 2008

    'Rebekah', 2008

    In ‘Forum’ the central figure is passive, immersed within and indeed diminished by the city around her. In Head's major work ‘Rebekah’ the central figure is more assertive, as she sits firmly in the foreground,  and our gaze upon her is deflected by her own examination of the space around her. While placid, her gaze is curious and engaged with her surroundings, and rather than eclipsed by the city she seems fascinated by it.
    ‘Rebekah’ was commissioned by the current owner via Clive’s agent at Marlborough, Armin Bienger, on the basis of a detailed drawing. The model for the central figures was the receptionist at Marlborough, and as Clive did not like to paint figures from photographs she was painted from life in his studio in North Yorkshire. The site is very recognizably Piccadilly, London, though it has been opened out using multiple viewpoints.
  • 'Drawing for To the Silence of Tiresias', 2016

    'Drawing for To the Silence of Tiresias', 2016

    In the complex charcoal drawing of 2016, ‘Drawing for To the Silence of Tiresias’, Clive uses the multiple forms of Duchamp’s ‘Nude descending a staircase’ to convey a woman rising from her bed to survey the city from her bedroom window. Although the main form is placed centrally we are encouraged to read the composition from left to right as she gets up and we follow her gaze to the world outside.

    In Clive’s recent painting ‘Fountainhead’ the female figure is still centrally placed but again less obviously so given the multi-faceted abstraction, the many overlapping figures, and the shifting sense of movement through time and space. The city is relegated to a narrow strip at the top of the composition, though still a powerful presence. As with much of his work of the past few years he is preoccupied more with the process of painting, with/and the act of creation, so the multiplicity of forms develop themselves onto the canvas rather than being drawn from life. As Clive wrote: “The figures in Fountainhead are engaged and engaging, but here, their physiognomy and anatomy have little to do with what might be observed outside the studio.”

  • 'Fountainhead', 2020

    'Fountainhead', 2020

    In these four artworks we can trace an arc that reflects various changing aspects in Clive's art. The tiny figure in 'Forum' anchors the formal compositon, where the multiple images that comprise the forground figure in 'Fountainhead' dominate the painting; the passive becomes active and expressionistic; the coolly observed becomes intense. Meanwhile they also reflect Clive's working methods, the careful and deliberate calculation of his early works is replaced by a more organic process as the increasing complexity of the forms develops as they are being painted on the canvas.



  • The process continues in his most recent works seen here: