He is the most recognized Trinidadian artist of the 20th century.
Clarke was born in Gonzalez, Belmont, in the capital of Trinidad. As a youth, he studied various forms of art, such as music and the theater. In 1962, he sold his first painting at an exhibition on his home island. In 1966 he participated in the Sao Paolo Biennial and a year later he moved to New York. From 1972 to 1975, he worked a resident artist at the Studio Museum in New York. During his years in the Big Apple he produced Weavers of the Dust, one of his most famous paintings, which is part of his first series: Fragments of a Spiritual. Today, he lives in Trinidad.
Some of Clarke’s pieces are part of the cubist style, such as Brighter Days with Roots, De Meeting and Headpiece. His command of this style has led some to compare his work to that of Wifredo Lam of Cuba. Clarke has also been described as a surrealist.
Clarke’s artwork touches on spiritual topics that the artist relates to his internal searching. The most obvious points of reference, however, allude to the island of Trinidad and the religious traditions of black Trinidadians. Some of his works make reference to the douen, characters from Trinidad folklore that represent the souls of children who died before being baptized. The douen’s feet are backwards, which in Clarke’s imagination symbolizes the loss of moral balance. In his series In De Maze, There is a Single Line to My Soul, Clarke narrated the loss of salvation implied by the douen and represented by El Tucuche, one of the highest mountains on Trinidad. Towards the Apotheosis of El Tucuche is an example of this. In the painting, various human and animal figures can be identified that are interwoven in a mystical space that appears like stained glass or a vision, where geometric figures such as triangles and spades can be seen.
Clarke has also written novels, such as Song of El Tucuche, and various books of poetry (Taste of Endless Fruit, Douens, Eyeing the Word, The El Tucuche Poems, etc.). As a painter poet, he wrote titles that should be seen as poetic verses. The title of one impressive and colorful acrylic painting, for example, is In Her Eye Burn and Burn, which is a play on words that is typical of Clarke. Since the words eye and I sound alike, the title can be read two different ways. The painting presents a circle of flaming colors, similar to an eye, but it also can be placed within the mystical context of the painter’s work and the image of the fire of ecstasy that burns the soul. The same play on words is seen in Eye Am, which can also be read with different meanings.
Author: Alejandro Carpio
Published: April 14, 2012.
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