John Clem Clarke

76 x 48 inches

Mixed media on canvas laid down on board

John Clem Clarke (b. 1937) continues to challenge our preconceptions about how pictures are made and can be made. The subjects of his eminently easy-to-read paintings of the last ten years are mostly food, modes of transportation, home life, sports, and industry. They couldn’t be more all-American or seem more straightforward. Yet they raise many questions, involving viewers in the artist’s ongoing dialogue with visual art. Clark’s most recent subject matter is the source of the title for this exhibition.

Clarke’s “Comforts” are the sorts of images found in pulp publications — illustrations that use a shorthand of graphic symbols, including such subjects as buttered corn and cherry pie. His “Near Disasters” also utilize an illustrator’s shorthand vocabulary: notations for speed, vibrations, or reflections in water appear in a series of paintings that are at first glance humorous in their nostalgic subjects of automobiles, roadside motels, and domestic interiors, yet each painting implies an unresolved narrative. “I like the subject that has implications you can dream up on your own. I like art to be friendly and playful, something you can really enjoy,” explains Clarke.

Drawn like modern cartoons or advertisement illustrations, Clark’s works speak of the present, the moment he created them, and of the past through the subject matter. Clarke found his future as an artist in his past — themes and styles of the 1940s and ’50s. Though the images are the stuff of his childhood, Clarke strives to keep the personal touch of the brushstroke out of his pictures. Clarke makes his finished paintings by enlarging a maquette using an opaque projector to make a set of stencils through which the finished paintings are brushed. This process of creating stencils has been relatively the same since he began using it in the mid-sixties. Speed is vital to the freshness of Clark’s works, and animation is the key to his style. Every line is alive, no edge is ever straight. The large size of his pictures (typically around 60″ X 90″) plays an important role in the transformation of Clark’s illustration-based style into high art.

“Pentimento” is the Italian word for repentance. The term describes the ghostly image that appears when paint ages and becomes transparent, revealing earlier versions of an artist’s composition. Clarke’s “Pentimenti” are no accidents of time, however — they are deliberate parts of his composition from the start. They remind us of all the changes artists have made in their paintings over the centuries, and encourage viewers to examine their own preconceptions about painted surfaces.

In addition to twenty large scale paintings dating from 1988 through 1998, a series of maquettes are exhibited as well. The curator for this exhibition is Peter Blume, Director of the Allentown Art Museum. An illustrated catalog with an essay by April Kingsley is being published by the Museum in conjunction with this exhibition. The exhibition was organized by the Allentown Art Muse un and has been made possible by the Leon and June Holt Endowment Fund.