If you look closely, a strand of hair, an eyelash, and bristles of a paintbrush are all materials found in American abstract expressionist Ed Clark’s paintings.
The artist’s talent has long been recognized in certain modern art world circles. But by 2019 (after his first solo show with Hauser and Wirth), suddenly the historically somewhat underappreciated Ed Clark became the talk of the town. Fast forward to 2022 and Hauser and Wirth presents the artist’s first solo exhibition in the UK. Without A Doubt spans Clark’s work over three decades, charting the notorious movement and variation in the painter’s artistic range. Madeline Warren, a director at Hauser and Wirth, explains “this show pinpoints a pivotal and really exciting moment in Clark’s career.”
The ‘opening’ painting of the show (Untitled, 1996-97) in the first room boasts Clark’s distinctive relationship with colour and scale. The artist’s unique mixture of the two produces the painting’s all-consuming aura. A 112 ¾ x 119 ½ inch canvas of swirling primary, secondary and tertiary pigments draws exhibition goers into the gallery’s London space. The combined sense of urgency and calm is incredibly captivating, and so begins the audience’s journey through Clark’s career.
Each of the eight works in the exhibition highlights the artist’s dramatic movement of colour and brushstroke, but I found Untitled 1996 to be especially intense. A hazy mix of brown, grey, and beige form a thick horizontal line at the top of the painting. The palette then transitions into bursts of blue (light and dark), brown, and white; each pigment clamouring for recognition. This mix ultimately leads to a sharply defined bright red line in the middle of the work— existing almost as if to define a clear bottom and top half of the painting. Below the red line, Clark continues with his muddled hues. A blend of warmer colours graduates into a primary reddish pigment. As the viewer steps backwards, there is a clear change and each individual component of the painting joins to read as one major gestural story.
Clark was trained in figurative painting, and it clearly holds an important place in his study of art. “Figurative painting will always be here… it will always be of interest,” the artist professed. A concrete grounding in this artistic style seemed to spark Clark’s interest in the nonrepresentational. A grounding in the study of figurative painting was the gateway drug into Clark’s complicated world of abstraction. The body of work in this exhibition is defined by a breakthrough in the artist’s style.
In the late 1950s Clark’s approach to painting changed. He began to use a push broom to create large, sweeping brushstrokes across his canvas placed on the floor. Clark’s use of the push broom marked a crucial shift in his career.
He would go on to champion this method where the subject of the work was the material of paint itself. Clark “takes everything he’s learned about paint, light and colour, and pushes it into a new style and dimensionality,” says Warren. His aim was to create more distance between the physical act of making art and the work he produced. But really the end result encompasses the artist’s entry to a deeper and more fluid connection to his painting.