John Clark Tribute
Jeffrey J. Spalding, Director, University of Lethbridge Art Gallery
Upon learning that he had been stricken by a terminal cancer, John Clark was able to reflect back over the events of his life and conclude that he had lived life the way he wanted to; he wouldn't want to have changed anything. Nor would there be any need to urgently drink in of yet untasted experience. It was his resolve that his remaining time was to be spent as it had always been, shared in considered measure between time spent with his family, friends and colleagues, engaged in thinking and writing about art, and his passionate involvement with art making. It would be good, John and I had agreed, if we could assemble a show of his work so that he might be able to look over and consider the merits and achievements of a life spent in the pursuit of artistic expression. Tragically, his battle with cancer was brief, on September 20, 1989, John Clark died at the age of 46.
The exhibition planned thus evolved to its present state — John Clark: A Tribute organized and selected by Victoria Baster, Assistant Curator and Tim Nowlin, Extensions Curator. It is with gratitude that we thank Pamela Clark for her kind assistance in gathering and sorting, and her advice in selecting and lending material for the exhibition. We also acknowledge the thoughtfulness of colleagues, sister institutions, the Alberta Art Foundation, the University of Lethbridge and Wynick-Tuck Gallery in making arrangements for loans and other generosities. Within a few short days, interest was expressed in this exhibit travelling to Calgary, Vancouver, Edmonton, Montreal and elsewhere. In itself, this speaks well of the high regard that we hold for the art and the man.
We at the University of Lethbridge have been very fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with such a fine individual, teacher, writer and artist. One could scarcely imagine a more sterling model to argue in favor of that oft-maligned individual, the artist-teacher. It would be hard to equal the high standards set by his example. He gave generously, effectively, and with great care and consideration for the development of students. This was coupled with a steadfast commitment to personal, professional contributions to the discipline as both an accomplished practitioner and commentator.
As Tim Nowlin notes in his essay that, while at Lethbridge, John Clark produced some of his most remarkable works. 'The Trans-Continental Man' who developed his art and career in tandem between England and throughout Canada seemed to find special resolve here. He found within artists in Canada and America many kindred spirits and he expressed a deep admiration and appreciation for the art of Peterson Ewen, John Meredith, David Milne and early American moderns, especially Marsden Hartley, Arthur Dove and Philip Guston.
Yet, in Canada particularly, advanced art has often institutionally been associated with art that has assumed new, non-traditional and often technological form. What was the role for the socially conscious individual committed to being a painter within this current situation? At Lethbridge, Clark seems to have come to some considerable clarity concerning this issue. Less cautious now and less guarded, the last works burst forth with a new sense of purpose and self-acceptance. His way was through painting and the last works mused over the place of the individual within the larger scheme of things — at once cultural and social, and later within the natural, even spiritual realm. What is our connectedness, the paintings seemed to say? Modestly, honestly, they offer no conclusiveness. Perhaps it should be so, as his own favoured master, Philip Guston, offered: 'All one can do is try.'