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Clifton Pugh was born in Melbourne in 1924. At the outbreak of war in 1939 he attempted to enlist in the army but being only 15, he was rejected. He was accepted at 19 and was stationed in New Guinea. Wounded, he spent months in a field hospital reflecting on war’s violence.
Following his discharge from the army in 1947, a grant allowed him three years study at the Melbourne National Gallery School, where he studied under William Dargie. After he completed the course, he moved 30 miles out of Melbourne, built his own house with his first wife, from wattle and daub and observed and drew the bush landscape around him. In 1954, a journey across the Nullarbor Plain informed and involved
him further with the Australian interior and bush.
His first exhibition, in 1955 was in a group show at the Victorian Artists Society. His first show in Melbourne in 1957, established him as a distinctive new painter with works specifically unrelated to European experience but not closely allied to any particular Australian school of painting. Between the 1950s and 1960s Pugh’s concern was consersation, a theme echoed in much of his work. His distinctive portraiture won him the Archibald Prize in 1965, 1971 and 1972 the last of which was of the then Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam.
“I tried to portray through my canvases nature raw and untamed and yet infinitely beautiful, a personality, a force, a lover, a killer”