A pioneering figure of the New York School, Ed Clark was an American artist recognised for his shaped canvases, use of the broom to creating sweeping gesture, and decades-long exploration of colour and abstraction.Read More
Born in New Orleans and raised in Chicago, Clark first studied at the Art Institute of Chicago (1951) and then moved to Paris to attend l'Académie de la Grande Chaumière (1953). There, he befriended American expatriates, among them fellow African American artists and writers James Baldwin, Barbara Chase-Riboud, and Beauford Delaney.
Over the course of 70 years, Ed Clarke's explorations with pure color, abstract form, and the possibilities of paint yielded an output of remarkable originality, extending the language of American abstraction.
He experimented with numerous different ways of applying colour, including through his use of a broom, creating known horizontal bands of colours to undulating lines.
Clark initially painted in the figurative mode, as seen in his Self-portrait (1949—1951), which shows the young artist dressed in a gingham shirt and a blue coat against an abstracted background of black and yellow. Not long after moving to Paris during the 1950s, he was influenced by the Russian-born artist Nicolas de Staël to adopt brighter colours and abstraction, as seen in paintings such as The City or Portrait of Muriel (both 1952).
It was also in Paris that Clark began using the broom as his primary tool, having picked it up while looking for something that was wider than a paintbrush. With the canvas on the floor, the artist would use the broom to sweep blocks of pigment, creating the broad bands of colour imbued with movement and energy that came to characterise his paintings.
In 1957, Clark returned to the United States, living between America and France over the following years. Settling in New York, he co-founded the artist-run Brata Gallery in the East Village, which went on to show the abstract works of Ronald Bladen, Al Held, John Krushenick, Sal Romano, and George Sugarman, among others.
Later that year, participating in the Christmas group show at Brata, Clark presented his first shaped painting. It is considered to be possibly the first use of a shaped canvas in America. The untitled work, depicting an abstract composition of green, blue, white, black, and grey, broke beyond the rectangular frame of the canvas through two pieces of paper that the artist had collaged onto it.
In 1968, then living in Vetheuil, France, Clark made his first oval-shaped painting—a shape he considered to be the closest to human vision. One such work, The Big Egg (1968), is composed of a sliver of pink at the very bottom, a middle-ground of bright blue and grey, and orange with a dash of white at the top. The largely horizontal bands of colours are not separated by hard edges or seamlessly integrated into one another but achieve harmony through Clark's attention to their intensity. Clark also retains the rough marks left by the bristles of the broom, which add texture and a sense of depth to the painting.
Although Ed Clark continued to paint into the 2010s, leading a career spanning over seven decades, he only received limited recognition, mainly from his artistic peers. In 2013 however, he began to receive wider recognition in the U.S., when the Art Institute of Chicago held a survey exhibition of his work, and in 2014, when artist David Hammons curated the solo exhibition Ed Clark: Big Bang at New York's Tilton Gallery.
More recent solo exhibitions include Expanding the Image, Hauser & Wirth, Los Angeles (2021); Ed Clark Painting 2000—2013, Hauser & Wirth, New York (2019); Ed Clark: A Survey, Mnuchin Gallery, New York (2018); Ed Clark, N'Namdi Center for Contemporary Art, Detroit (2016); Ed Clark, Art Institute of Chicago (2013).
Select group exhibitions include Coloring, University of Kentucky Art Museum (2021); Duro Olowu: Seeing Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art (2020); The Long Run, Museum of Modern Art, New York (2018); Impulse, Pace Gallery, London (2017); Blues for Smoke, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York and Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus (2013).
Between 2017 and 2019, Clark's work featured in the major touring exhibition Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power, which was organised by the Tate Modern in London and travelled to Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arizona; The Brooklyn Museum, New York; and The Broad, Los Angeles.
Ed Clark's website can be found here.
Sherry Paik | Ocula | 2021