Denis Clarke Interview with Angela Stretch for Arts Friday on Eastside Radio, recorded at Stanley Street Gallery, 11 August 2022.
Reconfiguration explores the changing subjectivities of the artist’s gaze within the language of the figure. Clarke explores a vocabulary of painterly solutions to subject matter, often rejecting linear perspective, space is defined viscerally by the figure in paint. Subjectivity slips and shifts, silhouettes emerge through trial and error of gesture.
Taking risks and playing with medium, the fluidity of paint, ink, the brittle softness of charcoal, Clarke is interested in ‘creating a process of informed experiment’. Surface becomes an archive of multiple observations; each work a collision of emotive energy where characters emerge from these acts of re- seeing and re-considering. What evolves is a generous choreography that offers new interpretations of the figure.
Drawing is both the blueprint and deciding moment in Clarke’s work, either mapping the structure of a painting or resolving and defining an eye, nose or mouth from swathes of bold colour. In Surf and Shower 1, we can see traces of previous observations in the soft charcoal smudges lingering beneath passages of paint. Neptune at Nielson similarly reveals the drawing underneath the paint, improvisation layered with considered mark making.
Playful exchanges between drawing and painting practice build rhythm in Clarke’s compositions. He scribbles and scratches back into the paint, as in Nielsen Oracle or reworks and refines loose fluid movement with emotive black lines, as in Café Couple and Walking at Maroubra, each time finding poetry in geographies of the body. Layers of new perspectives, new lines and drips summon the presence of the subject, the fluidity of paint echoing the fluidity of the artists’ gaze.
Clarke’s practice involves a relationship between himself, the bodily and the tactile, “I am touching materials and feeling out my experience of looking at a subject such as a landscape, people and buildings”. The exhibition Reconfiguration captures this visceral practice, documenting conversations between chance and the senses, putting forth a platform to explore subject matter and awareness and giving space for the unexpected to invade the game of play.
“I am touching materials and feeling out my experience of looking at a subject such as a landscape, people and buildings” - Clarke
Denis Clarke in his studio, 2022, Photo Claire de Carteret
Denis Clarke works across painting and drawing, exploring the relationship between himself, the bodily and the tactile. Interested in creating a process of informed experiment, his paintings extend conversations of subject, texture and paint fluidity that suspend perception and reality. Denis Clarke completed post-graduate study at St Martins School of Art, London, and received the NSW Travelling Art Scholarship as well as Moya Dyring residency at the Cite International des Arts in Paris.
Clarke has held 17 solo exhibitions since 1975. Based in Sydney, he has spent extended periods working and studying in London and Switzerland, teaching at the Camden School of Art and the Hampstead School of Art, exhibiting at Gillian Jason Gallery, Boundary Gallery and James Colman Gallery, Knightsbridge, as well as creating set designs and large paintings for the experimental Opera Factory, in Zurich and London. Clarke has been a sessional lecturer at the National Art School to 2010 and has been recently engaged on The Dobell School at the NAS.
Stanley Street Gallery has represented Denis Clarke since 2014.
Words by Claire de Carteret