Kornblee Gallery, New York, New York
Mary and Louis S. Myers, Akron, Ohio
Gift to Akron Art Institute (Museum), 1971
2007-2008: "Opening exhibition, Haslinger galleries" 7/7/07-8/11/08, Akron Art Museum
1997-1998: "A 75th Anniversary Celebration of the Collection" 9/25/97-2/1/98, Akron Art Museum
1995: "Imagined and Observed: Representational Paintings and Drawings of the Past Five Decades" 4/29/95-10/22/95, Akron Art Museum
1989: "American Photo-Realism from the Permanent Collection" 2/17/89-8/13/89, Akron Art Museum
1987: "Permanent Collection Gallery" 117/87-3/5/87, Akron Art Museum
1973: "Works of Art from the Akron Art Institute" 6/18/73-7/25/73, Kent State University School of Art Gallery, Kent, OH
1969: "Aspects of a New Realism" 6/21/69-8/10/69, Kornblee Gallery, New York, NY
Framed dims: 92 1/4 x 144 inches
Verso: "Morse - The Old House of Representatives"..."John Clem Clarke 69"
Label on back of painting:
Aspects of a New Realism
6/21 - 8/10/69
John Clem Clarke
Morse—The Old House of Representatives, 1969
Collection of the Akron Art Museum
John Clem Clarke's canvases evolve from the artist's preoccupations with the nature of painting. During college, he first became interested in how images are transmitted and visual signs are interpreted as stand-ins for real things. His subjects have ranged from shorthand versions of old master paintings to images from television to bucolic scenes of contemporary nudes. From 1967 to 1969 Clarke undertook an extensive series based on European and American old master paintings. Morse—The Old House of Representatives is from this body of work.
Clarke had his first gallery show in 1968, and it was an immediate success. A critic described his technique as follows:
He projects a color slide of a painting, sideways, onto marking paper which is tacked to the wall. He enlarges it to the size he desires. When he has decided what are to be the first areas that "he wants to take off" he draws their outlines in pencil and, using a rotary knife, he cuts them out to form his first stencil. He then takes the paper and lays it on top of a canvas on the floor and sprays or rolls paint onto the exposed areas. Proceeding in this manner, he may put on anywhere from three to seven layers of paint.1
Using this basic procedure, Clarke explored the odd way that bits and pieces of abstract pigment are, from a distance, reassembled by the eye into recognizable images.
The painting owned by the Akron Art Museum is based on a well-known work at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.: The House of Representatives, painted from late 1821 to early 1823 by Samuel F. B. Morse (1791–1872). Morse's picture depicts the moment when the chandelier has been lowered so that the candles can be lit and Congress can begin its session. The white border with curved corners clearly indicates that Clarke's source is a 35mm slide reproduction, the type sold in museum shops around the world. Clarke's composition is close to Morse's original, but he cropped the top of the domed chamber, thereby focusing more attention on the figures and downplaying the neoclassical architecture as well as Morse's references to the Pantheon and the Roman republic.
Morse, a founder of the National Academy of Design, devoted himself increasingly to scientific interests after 1830; he is also known for promoting the daguerreotype and inventing the telegraph. Morse's dual interests in art and technology may have attracted Clarke, who regards painting as the establishment of a visual code to be interpreted by the viewer. Oddly enough Clarke's fabricated images made from spots of stenciled pigment recall Morse’s creation of words from dots and dashes.
The notion of what is real and what is a replica is central to Clarke's work. "Our whole world is made up of copies," whether of objects or ideas, the artist explained.2 Accordingly Clarke paints a work that instantly resonates as a copy of an antique, whether or not viewers recognize its source. Paradoxically the work is not a fake but an original painting—a copycat and a unique work at the same time.
Clarke's decision to use preexisting images was a direct outgrowth of Pop Art, particularly Andy Warhol's silkscreened paintings of familiar commodities and celebrities (see pp. 148¬–149) and Roy Lichtenstein's comic-book images with their stenciled dots. Clarke, too, challenges conventional notions of originality but at the same time acknowledges the role of tradition, reminding us that painters from the Renaissance to the twentieth century have been trained by copying older art.
- Mitchell D. Kahan, 2001
1. Siegel, 44.
2. Quoted in David Shirey, “Copy Cat,” Newsweek 73 (June 16, 1969): 105.
John Clem Clarke: Comforts, Near Disasters, and Pentimenti. With an essay by April Kingsley. Allentown, Pa.: Allentown Art Museum, 1998.
Reed, Dupuy Warrick. "John Clem Clarke: Another Glimpse of Childhood." Arts Magazine 53 (April 1979): 158–62.
Siegel, Jeanne. "An Art of Transmission: John Clem Clarke at Kornblee." Arts Magazine 43 (summer 1969): 44–46.