As Pugh established himself as a painter he was much in demand as a portraitist. He developed an independent style of portraiture based on informality and empathy with his subject. His skill as a portrait painter is underlined by the fact that he won the Archibald Prize in 1965, in 1971 and again in 1972 with his portrait of Gough Whitlam.
James Gleeson in his book “Australian Painters” notes that “Clifton Pugh’s vision of nature, red of tooth and claw, has made him the outstanding Australian exponent of the post- Darwinian approach to landscape and animal paintings.
Predators, stark as death, attack their prey, which dies on earth as red as blood. The bush is a battlefield where only the fittest survive. Strength, speed, cunning, sharp teeth, claws or talons – these are the weapons of survival – and Pugh sees this terrible, inevitable pageant of life and death with clear, unsentimental eyes.”
Clifton Pugh exhibited at the Tate and Whitechapel Galleries in London and is represented in all major Australian galleries, and in numerous corporate and private collections. Many of his portraits of famous Australian politicians hang in Parliament House, Canberra.