Clifton Pugh is an iconic Australian artist and environmentalist. He is best known for his portrait and landscape works, which rather than just fixating on likeness, express something profound about their subject. In 1954, Pugh travelled across the Nullarbor with his friend Noel Macainsh, realising:
“the boundless extent of a land, paradoxically both harsh and delicate, together with the illimitable space above it.”
This perception of the land as a vessel for time, humanity and spirituality underlies both his art and environmentalism. Three years before visiting the Nullarbor, Pugh purchased land at Cottles Bridge – the eventual site of the artist’s community ‘Dunmoochin’. Instrumental in Australia’s conservation movement, the Dunmoochins worked to regenerate the land, witnessing first-hand the degradation caused by feral animals.
Across his career, Pugh won the Archibald Prize thrice, was made an Officer of Order of Australia in 1985 and in 1990 was appointed Australia’s War Memorial’s official artist at the 75th anniversary celections of the Gallipoli landing. In 2005 was honoured with a retrospective at the National Portrait Gallery, Melbourne, the catalogue essay of which recalls Pugh’s aptitude for capturing his sitter’s inner character. Whether the landscape or undulating plains of human life, his contributions to art were uncompromising, unique and bracing.