San Francisco

John Clem Clarke

Walls Gallery

Another artist who succeeds in producing a visual richness far beyond that of the photographs he works from is John Clem Clarke, who has had a show at the Michael Walls Gallery. In his earlier work Clarke adapted masterpieces of the past by using photographs of the works themselves; for these paintings he used photographs of his friends arranged in the required poses.

He makes stencils for each area of color in the picture and then applies paint with a Flit gun instead of the traditional airbrush. This note on technique is fairly important for the understanding of his more recent work, since these small areas of color, which do the work of modeling, have come to take on an increasingly independent role as pictorial elements, and seem to have a life of their own in some of the paintings.

Clarke’s paintings seem to be about light and modeling more than they are about their historical sources. There was so much white and near-white that I sometimes thought I was in the presence of a poor man’s Zurbarán. Whatever art-historical points are being made should not be taken over seriously. The point is that Clarke is producing, by a technique that sounds coldly reductive when described, a lot of delightfully sensuous paintings.

Jerome Tarshis