New York

John Clark

49th Parallel

If Hurson’s work has a deceptive appearance, seeming less ambitious than it really is, then something similar might be said of the paintings of John Clark. But the terms should be reversed. The paintings look ambitious, they are big, bright, confident in their painterliness; but they are extremely timid in conception.

At their best they are recordings of local detail—a doorframe, perhaps, or the silhouette of an old-fashioned factory standing against the sky. Local detail with a certain nostalgic blush to it, a sentimentality emphasized by the lush paint as much as by the schematic allusion to a newsboy barking out the evening’s headlines that crops up in several of the canvases. In fact, the work is full of allusions of one sort or another, mostly of the sort that is supposed to cue the viewer to understand that this is “important” art—references to Constructivist graphic design, for example, or, in another piece, to van Gogh painting at night with candles in his hat. (Oh, those Expressionist painters, what a crazy lot!) But Clark lacks the brash self-confidence of those painters, European and American, whom he obviously wishes to emulate. He mentions past glories, calls attention to the correct mythologies, but pulls back from the outright identification that might give his work some bite. Timorous quotation of the right stuff is no longer enough—painters who still believe in what they are doing have to eat it whole. Because if they don’t swallow it, who will?

Thomas Lawson