Colouring Light: Brian Clarke - An Artist Apart | Visual arts reviews, news & interviews
Colouring Light: Brian Clarke - An Artist Apart
A documentary director explains why he made a film about the punk-inspired stained-glass artist
My relationship with the artist Brian Clarke, the subject of my forthcoming film, goes back a long way: when I first filmed him for a documentary I made for BBC Two in 1993 - a film about windows as symbols and metaphors in the series The Architecture of the Imagination - I was not only struck by the outstanding quality of his work as a painter and stained-glass artist, but by the exceptionally articulate and perceptive way in which he talked about art.
There was an eloquence there – as well as charm and a great deal of biting humour – and an unusual intellectual freshness and depth. He was, above all, immensely inspiring and there was something in the way he communicated about his path through the creative process that was infectious. You couldn’t leave him without a renewed faith in the power of the imagination. All of this added up to a must-make film, a project which I kept thinking about over the ensuing years and which has now finally made it to the screen.
Clarke is one of Britain’s hidden treasures: he not only paints – mostly large semi-abstract canvases – but designs spectacular stained glass, which has been commissioned by clients from Japan to Kazakhstan, from Sweden to Brazil and from Switzerland to the United States. The range of his work is breathtaking – though he is not generally recognised for it or even credited. When it came to choosing a secondary title for the documentary, he suggested “An Artist Apart”, as Clarke feels that he exists in what he describes in the film as a “parallel world”. To the V&A he is a fine artist but, because of his association with stained glass, the Tate thinks of him as a mere craftsman. (Pictured below, Elegy to Lost Time, 1994, private collection.)
Stained glass has fusty associations, but Clarke has transformed the medium, continually exploring its possibilities, from making vast panels of glass without any lead to creating works where there is only lead and no glass at all, playing with the two extremes, as art historian Martin Harrison points out, of “absolute transparency and absolute opacity”.
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