John Clarke has lived in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts since 2007. He was born in central Massachusetts around a landscape of mills, rivers, trains and bridges. Clarke went to college in Maine, and has traveled extensively, often on foot, throughout the northeast. During his years at Bates College, he studied chemistry, math, archaeology, and art history, ultimately earning his degree in classical music composition.
Often described as a “renaissance man,” Clarke was front man and a primary songwriter for the band Bell Engine. He also has a solo album, All Beneath Our Train. An avid writer, he has written more than 60 short stories about his years jumping freight trains, and more recently, after the birth of his son Orrin, writes poems for children.
Clarke’s fine art work is created in a range of mediums. Oil paints, pastels, and pencil were his main tools for many years. A series of fifteen large pieces were displayed in the Latchis Theatre in Brattleboro, Vermont in 2007, and since then in several other galleries. They were inspired by a neoclassical piece of music called Alina by the Estonian composer Arvo Part. The Alina series exemplifies his style and use of color, line, and shape. In an article in the on-line journal Rural Intelligence, associate editor Nichole Dupont called him a “multimedia abstract master.” Earlier, in 2002, Clarke started scanning pressed flowers through a now-outdated color printer. The results, what he called Flower, Stain, and Fingerprint, were a novel type of botanical illustration, which cannot be recreated, as newer printers do not produce the same effects. Of perhaps a thousand different prints, he has only several dozen left.
Once Clarke stopped riding freight trains he realized hadn’t documented the incredible journeys and places he had discovered. So he bought a camera and started exploring train yards and bridges to capture some of those memories. At that time Clarke was interested in sharply focused images, describing his desire for sharpness as wanting to feel the rust in his photos. In 2012, his tripod broke. During an autumn hike Clarke headed out without his tripod and produced images with accidental blur. The trails of light and color appealed to the abstract painter in him and changed the way he thought about photography. The experience established a new course for him as a visual artist. A year later, Clarke discovered the iPhone and has become an accomplished iPhone photographer and teacher, helping his students capture and process images with a unique, painterly feel.
Clarke continues to push the camera to its limits, translating photographic images into other mediums. Painting with light, his work is often mistakenly viewed as pastel or charcoal drawings. Multiple, long exposures and gestural movements of the camera blur the distinction between artforms. Some of his newest applications have an alternative process or pinhole camera feeling to them. There is often a tension in his work between what is revealed and what is obscured. This has been with him since the beginning when he started painting and is revisited in alternative ways over and over again. Hanging one visual language on the balance of another, Clarke’s latest work combines mediums, using the photographic print as a backdrop for an emotional layer of line, color and symbol with pastel, pencil and paint to create one-of-a-kind pieces.
Clarke’s work has been shown at the Geoff Young Gallery, Art on Main at Barnbrook, Joyce Goldstein Gallery, Isha Nelson Gallery, Deb Koffman’s Little Gallery, and Sohn Fine Art Gallery, where he is currently represented. Clarke was recently featured in the August 2016 and April 2011 issue of The Artful Mind.