Ed Clark: Expanding The Image
August 22, 2020 through January 10, 2021
By PETER FRANK, November 2020
The art world’s current preoccupation with artists of color, in particular of African descent, yields important finds not only among emerging talents, but among established figures as well. In this context, artists of clear merit and distinguished accomplishment are finally given their due. The high regard their peers, Black and otherwise, had for them now becomes universal, a matter of record.
Ed Clark is – was—one such figure. Active since the 1950s, Clark participated in the painterly reaction to, and against, Abstract Expressionism by devising his own kind – kinds -- of color painting (an “artist of color” in more than one sense). In this he looked closely at and developed from both ab-ex painters like Joan Mitchell and “post-painterly” artists such as Helen Frankenthaler and Paul Jenkins. Indeed, to judge by the several paintings in this exhibition, Clark was one of the most gifted “stain” painters working in the 1960s, engaging an especially deep and varied palette and a compositional sense that, while providing armature for flow and gesture, maintained an almost geometrical poise. (Clark clearly knew his Cubism.) This lucid structure gives additional force to the passages of blue, blots of red, incidents of green, a force that finally carries you off like a storm but without the turbulence. The ‘60s paintings in this survey of Clark’s work from the ‘60s and ‘70s, physically polished and visually raw, are just breathtaking
The later paintings are breathtaking, too, but much quieter, subtler, and even a bit recondite. This work awes with its sheer scale and its (resulting) evocation of many types of space at once. The huge canvases here, of the kind Clark rarely got to exhibit, are scored with myriad horizontal striations, defining a complex layering of potentially multiple recessional spaces. Using a broom to push the pigment across the canvas expanse, Clark opened up vast seas of color, activating them with linear energy in which the hues beneath vibrate into colors on top. Sometimes Clark inscribed an oval reaching all cardinal points of the picture; other times he rendered his scratched horizons within such an oval, the canvas having been stretched into an egg shape.
Apparently, Clark was the first painter recorded as having shown a “shaped canvas” back in the late ‘50s, long before his early-1970s ovals, but also before the shaped-canvas mini-boom of the mid-60s. He is also credited with being the first artist to paint with a broom. Being first with a formal innovation isn’t as cool as it used to be (it’s so, you know, late-modernist), but it’s still an accomplishment of serious remark. The important thing now isn’t the gimmick, it’s what’s done with it. And Clark pushed beauty out of that broom and fashioned overwhelming visual spaces within eccentric as well as standard formats. He devised new methods to accommodate a vision that sought to escape limits.
Clark was urgently peripatetic for much of his career, spending a few years – or months – in New York before heading off to France or Greece, where he would pick up where he left off. Some of the work in “Expanding The Image” was made in the States, some in Europe. One reason Clark gave for his restlessness was his response to different kinds of natural light, and the variety in color and tone evident even among these dozen or so paintings admits to such lucid dreaming. Clark, who died last year at the age of 93, may have diffused his reputation with his earlier globetrotting – this was in the years before the art world became today’s moveable feast – but it resulted in a stunning legacy. WM
PETER FRANK is an art critic, curator, and editor based in Los Angeles, where he serves as Associate Editor of Fabrik Magazine. He began his career in his native New York, where he wrote for The Village Voice and The SoHo Weekly News and organized exhibitions for the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and the Alternative Museum. He is former Senior Curator at the Riverside (CA) Art Museum and former editor of Visions Art Quarterly and THEmagazine Los Angeles, and was art critic for LA Weekly and Angeleno Magazine. He has worked curatorially for Documenta, the Venice Biennale, and many other national and international venues. (Photo: Eric Minh Swenson)
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