Collection of the Alberta Foundation for the Arts
John Clark, "Ramifications and Matisse's Eye", acrylic, oil on canvas 235.9 cm x 204.2 cm
John Clark: A Tribute
An exhibition marking the 25th anniversary of the artist’s death
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the passing of Canadian artist, John Clark Born Yorkshire, U.K. in 1943 he died of cancer in 1989 at Lethbridge, tragically young at the age of 46. Contemporary Calgary is honoured to amass this group of works in recognition of his stellar career achievements. It is sourced primarily from the Clark estate, augmented by significant public and private loans.
Clark was a gifted artist, writer, curator and university professor. His career spanned important periods of work in England, Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, Halifax and finally at the University of Lethbridge. As an instructor he was inspirational and influential, motivating and animating students towards becoming emerging dedicated professional artists. It was my privilege to be a fellow professor at U.of L.
As a painter he holds a very prominent place in the development of art in Canada. He was one of the most respected and admired figurative artists of the 1980s. His works are in important public collections such as the National Gallery of Canada, Art Gallery of Ontario, Vancouver Art Gallery, Glenbow Museum and Art Gallery of Nova Scotia among others.Clark was very attuned and sensitive to his surroundings and as the paintings in this exhibition will attest, the mood, tone, coloration and themes resonate with the places that he lived. The U’K. pictures such as “Guardian of the Valley” reflect the lush greenness of the verdant British landscape. In Nova Scotia his admiration for the melancholic otherworldliness of the art of Giorgio de Chirico became conjoined with a new spirit of abstracted stylised figurative painting that relates to the New Image painters of the 1970s. Yet, pictures such as “Shout” and “Prince Street” are all so mindful of the sternness, strangeness and paucity of the Nova Scotia environment, (weather as well as cultural and spiritual).
In the mid to late 1980s Clark commenced work at the University of Lethbridge and a grand flowering of his work unfurled. He voraciously absorbed and referenced the work of a wide array of powerful painters ranging from Henri Matisse, Van Gogh, Paterson Ewen, John Meredith, David Bolduc, David Milne, Marsden Hartley and very specifically the narrative paintings of Philip Guston. He was enamoured by the dark psychology of Malcolm Lowry’s book “Under the Volcano”. Paintings such as “The Wheel” seem evident reflections on symbols and thoughts drawn from this novel: the individual caught amidst external machinations beyond their personal control.
Through it all, the intensity of the light, colours, exotic landforms and structures of the Lethbridge region result in works of astonishing creativity and inventiveness. Subsequent artists will be hard pressed to ever match the power of his “Bird and Bridge” as an emblematic representation of southern Alberta. As such, Clark created a body of work that speaks specifically about characteristics of our region. John Clark tied this to a loving, knowing passionate dialogue with international art: historic, modern and contemporary. He was one of our very finest.
Jeffrey Spalding C.M., R.C.A.
Artistic Director and Chief Curator