ON VIEW AT BEAZORS ANTIQUES, CAMBRIDGE.
My intention is to speak to the dreamlike quality of childhood memories and create an experience with my work the goes beyond the image itself. I hope to present a narrative that includes the frame and the overall presentation of the work with a jewel like quality.
Over many years I have developed a technique for painting rooted in the practices of the Old Masters. I slowly build up opaque and transparent glaze layers, sometimes using metal leaf, to achieve subtle effects of colour and light. This is rooted in my training in restoration, where I learnt how to mix all the traditional paint media for myself, as well as gilding, carving, japanning and Verre Eglomise (reverse gilded glass). My working practices are based on my understanding of the mechanics of oil painting, little taught these days.
I generally use antique and vintage frames, that I restore to present small, quiet works that speak of my love of the English landscape and my fascination with still life. These are informed by many artists including Samuel Palmer, Atkinson Grimshaw, Rex Whistler, Felix Kelly and the work of David Inshaw during his time with the Brotherhood of Ruralists, to name but a few.
Interview with Chris Clarke
Introduced to me by BADA member, Jeremy Green of Canon Gallery, Chris Clarke creates works inspired and informed by English Surrealists and Neoclassicists of the inter-war period. We spoke over zoom, about everything from his pathway to finding his voice, his hunt for antique frames and a shared experience of the suffocating nature of art schools. Chris’ works are small, exquisitely fabricated and technically painted landscapes and still life pieces. Whereas many artists might sell themselves short, by framing their pieces in an uninspiring frame, Chris takes into account every aspect of his creations, regarding the painting, frame, mount, backing and glazing as an art object with a jewel like quality. The overall presentation of Chris’ work is integral to his creation of an experience for the viewer- a dreamlike encounter with childhood memories which read as a love letter to the English countryside and architecture, sculpture and wildlife that is quintessentially British.
The lighter parts of Chris’ childhood involved exploring historic houses and gardens, which sparked his love of craft, textiles and gilding. During our conversation, Chris touched upon a difficult childhood, having lost both of his parents at a young age, taking on the role of carer all before he turned age 16. Resilience, independence and an ability to problem solve was a requirement in his youth, which has stayed with him throughout both his personal life and creative career. Chris’ paintings are hardy little works, solid and confident in their technicality. They are robust, with many layers of opaque and transparent glaze layers, sometimes with aspects of metal leaf. Their frames are often restored antique finds that have already stood the test of time. We joke that conservators in the future would have a field day with Chris’ work, scanning the layers of re-worked paint and glazes, hidden beneath the smooth and flawless final layer. However, the appeal of the works, is having said all this, they are incredibly sensitive pieces- with whisper like brush strokes, seamlessly blended colour graduations in hazy skies, speckled with fluffy clouds and fabrics of which you can almost feel the silk texture of their weaves. His work is built on a foundation of technical skills and a deep-rooted understanding of the practices of the Old Masters which successfully anchors their ethereal qualities.
I would like to think that everyone can find familiarity in Chris’s works, whether they remind one of a view from a window in a childhood home or the route taken on a regular walk in the countryside, the paintings offer a glimpse of a scene, with the viewer encouraged to complete the memory, with what lies beyond the image itself.
Before I even lead the conversation towards the idea of inherited objects, Chris tells me how he always considers how his works will be found and received in the future. He shows me the beautiful, marbled backing paper of a recent piece, as well as the picture label, based on a book plate he attaches to the back of every piece- inspired by a 15thCentury alter cloth design. Chris even cuts and creates his own custom mounts. I imagine that those who have the pleasure of owning one of Chris’s pieces, present or future, would find it to be a wondrous experience, discovering the smaller details of their composition and the care given to ensure that they survive, as intended, for many years to come.
Chris’s paintings are rich in both colour and history. The pieces are more about a feeling, than the subject matter. Rich reds, yellows and earth tones, contrasted with cool blues and frosted greys evoke the feeling of looking out at a gloomy British day, whilst being in the warmth of your own home. Green and blue mottled hues give the impression of a walk at night, lit by moonlight. Always built up from a red or pink toned base colour, never white, the paintings have a depth that give them the feeling of being objects in their own right, rather than representations. Chris does not enjoy painting in impasto, which if anything speaks to his talent in creating depth, without texture.
It is a long process before Chris deems a piece to be finished. Many of the works currently available have been re-worked multiple times. Working directly onto canvas, rather than creating preliminary sketches, the experimentation and colour development takes places on the final work. Preferring to saturate the canvas, Chris does not see the point in him creating sketches when he can dive right in with the colours he has in mind for his creations.
Once ‘complete’, the painting will sit on an easel in his studio, whilst he contemplates the appropriate frame or mount. In this time, Chris can experience the pieces in different lights. Chris speaks of being an art student in London in the 80’s. He recalls being told that ‘figurative painting is dead’, which at the time he did not have the confidence to question. When I ask what advice he would give to readers of Inherited,
he says he would encourage people, as much as they can, to preserve their own voice. Now he sees that his art tutors were quite arrogant and that there is no area of art that can be considered to be ‘expired’. He also speaks about the tendency of art school to favour concept and social commentary, over skill and technical prowess. Throughout his study at both Grimsby School of art and then City and Guilds, he developed skills in everything from gilding, through to painting (including the creation of his own paint), as well as japanning and Verre Eglomise (reverse gilded glass), and rather than set them all aside in favour of one particular skill, Chris applies them all in his practice.
During the Pandemic, Chris’s account on Instagram was hacked and he had no recourse to reclaim it. Following this, he lost confidence and stopped creating art for a year. It is wonderful to see that Chris is back in full force, and he is certainly one to watch. You can see his works displayed in Cambridge at Beazor Antiques from the 12th October- 30th November.T