Oliver Clegg is a British multidisciplinary artist whose work has been included in the Venice, Prague, and Busan Biennales. His diverse array of paintings, sculptures, and installations flit between exacting figuration and conceptualism, all anchored in a sense of play.Read More
Clegg was born in Guildford and discovered a passion and ability for drawing in childhood. When he was 22, Clegg spent two years studying oil portraiture in Florence, where he learnt traditional chiaroscuro and 'painting in a naturalistic style' that would come to define his figurative works. On his return to the U.K., he attended Bristol University to study Art History and Italian.
Graduating in 2005, Clegg faced a quandary over becoming an artist or pursuing other avenues. He interned at several galleries and a magazine in London before deciding to become an artist full-time. Clegg completed his MFA at the City and Guilds of London Art School and graduated with distinction in 2007.
At art school, Clegg began to collect and recycle old drawing boards, which he was drawn to for their pre-existing markings and doodles. Their 'archival nature' and added contextual histories have always been a fascination for the artist, who describes himself as incredibly nostalgic. This was only intensified after his father's death when Clegg was 29. Since then, his work has often evoked Elysian childhood memories, represented by depictions of forgotten toys and cartoon characters from the pre-digital era.
Oliver Clegg's practice strikes a delicate balance between nostalgia and cynicism in his often witty commentaries on the dichotomy of past and present. Working across a wide variety of mediums, his choice of discipline tends to respond to the site or context for which it is created; his paintings are often highly refined with a Surrealist bent, where his sculptures are produced outside of studio, communicating a more conceptual repertoire.
For his first solo show in Berlin at Galerie Nolan Judin in 2011, Clegg meditated on the word berceuse—the French word for lullaby. The artist created seven painted works and a sculpture produced with found materials like demolished church floorboards, mirrors, and chess boards, engaging themes regarding dreams and the subconscious. The work Think of Me (2010) depicts a double self-portrait of the artist looking at and painted onto a mirror, where the viewer cannot see his face but instead the back of his head: an homage to René Magritte. The large-scale works proved Clegg's skills with high illusionism, replicating an almost Baroque visual style.
In 2016, Clegg held his first solo exhibition in the U.S.A. for Erin Cluley Gallery, Dallas, which featured ten oil-on-canvas paintings accompanied by three interactive sculptures that aimed to quite literally reproduce the dizzying effects of life in the digital age.
The paintings depicted traditional cartoon characters like Garfield and Mickey Mouse—'avatars' seemingly on the decline—in the form of deflated balloons to a trompe l'oeil effect. In dialogue with these new pieces, Clegg included Until the Cows Come Home (2014), a kinetic sculpture of a round table and chairs that spins manually every 20 minutes. In the first week of the exhibition, gallery visitors were invited to a series of interactive dinners and subjected to the vertigo that Clegg sees as symptomatic of the constant visual stimuli provided by our addiction to social media.
Clegg's 2021 exhibition We Cat for The Journal Gallery, New York proved his proclivity for creating distinct series of works focused on highly specific visual and conceptual motifs. As suggested by the title—punning on the messaging app WeChat—the show embraced cheeky and varied depictions of cats, ranging from high illusionism to cartoons to scribbles made by his young daughter, as in Luna (2021). Opening during Halloween, the exhibition was celebrated with a party thrown by the gallery, where the guests had to arrive dressed as cats to enter.
Oliver Clegg has been the subject of both solo exhibition and group exhibitions.
Solo exhibitions include We Cat, The Journal Gallery, New York (2021); Tennis Elbow, Journal Gallery, New York (2019); Euclid's Porsche, Rental Gallery, New York (2018); Everything should be O.K, Lawrie Shabibi, Dubai (2018); Life is a gasssss, Erin Cluley Gallery, Dallas (2016).
Group exhibitions include Exhibition 11, PM/AM, London (2021); Good Pictures, Deitch Projects, New York (2020); More or Less, Sadie Coles HQ, London (2018); The Cruellest Month, Mother Gallery, Beacon (2018) Small, Erin Cluley Gallery, Dallas (2017).
Clegg's website can be found here.
Annie Curtis | Ocula | 2022