Dr. David C. Driskell and Claude Clark
CLAUDE CLARK: "ON MY JOURNEY NOW"
Dr. David C. Driskell, PhD.
Claude Clark, Sr. remains in the eyes of many of the students he has taught over the past fifty years, benevolent teacher, cultural mentor and importantly, one of the fine models for artists of all generations. Most remember him for being a person whose interest in the welfare of Black artists throughout the African diaspora predated even the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.
Clark's interest in African art goes back to the formative years in his career when he studied art under the tutelage of renowned collector and art enthusiast, Dr. Albert C. Barnes from 1939 through 1944. Few practicing artists had such a long and productive association with the venerable Dr. Barnes at his school of art at the Barnes Foundation in Merion, Pennsylvania.
Clark's study at the Barnes Foundation helped inform his knowledge of the role that African art played in the development of modern art in Europe. It was at the Barnes Foundation that Clark first saw African art as an important place to begin his own aesthetic development as a painter, an interest he has genuinely maintained over the years. While few of the works in this exhibition note the artist's long standing interest in the subject of African art, nearly all show the love affair he has carried on over the years with African American themes, particularly those that show life in the Deep South and the Caribbean.
But there are times when other themes are equally important in the artist's genre. EXPULSION is a highly political composition that shows Uncle Sam being expelled from what was at one time colonial Africa. SHAKE A LEG communicates the exuberance of Black dance while RAISING THE CROSS, painted nearly twenty years ago, show the irony of the Christian cross being used by the Klu Klux Klan as a symbol of racial hate.
Some of the paintings in this exhibition document important places in the artist's work and travels over the years. ON SUNDAY MORNING is a handsomely rendered study of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in the Manayunk, Pennsylvania community where Clark spent many of his childhood years. WINDY HILL shows two African inspired buildings with hip roofs, once a dairy and in later years the campus laundry at Talladega College in Talladega. Alabama. STONE HALL was painted in 1949. The building, a freshman dormitory for men at Talladega College, was destroyed by fire in the mid- 1970s. Clark painted both WINDY HILL and STONE HALL, while he served as Associate Professor of Art at Talladega College in the 1940s and '50s.
Over the years, Clark has painted an odyssey showing Black people and their journey in the African diaspora. There are times when Clark's odyssey takes us to Haiti, Egypt, Mobile Alabama, Nigeria and nearby suburbs of the city of Philadelphia, among others. Yet there are times when we are presented by the artist with personal tokens of love; the joyous beauty of a bouquet of flowers as is the case with IRIS and GLADIOLAS -- reminding us of the artist's sensibility to adverse forms of nature in its convincing ways. Importantly, in many of the accounts that we witness Clark's art in its varying forms, there is indeed an dimensioning expression of the creative urge to explore form and communicate a vision of the world that he alone has been given. Claude Clark loves this odyssey of artistry and he remains steadfast on his journey now.
David C. Driskell