A Mystery and a Wonder


Why does painting matter? What kind of thing is it? What kind of act is it to make a painting? Ann Clarke's work gives rise to these questions because it represents a kind of limit case of painting : It is nothing if pure painting is nothing; it is everything if painting can be seen and known and understood as painting.

Now, this is a propensity or a skill or a habit that is often endangered, especially in a prosaic culture like ours. It's hard to insist on the importance of colored marks, made by a body and mind, readable by other bodies and minds only in a condition of faith or at least lack of hostility. But the very extremity of this insistence is the key to its importance. When one sentient body can say : "Look", and another say : "Yes, I see" , it establishes the basis of the human world, grounded in our physicality, filled with perception.

The wonderful thing about this work is that it is never formulaic. One has a continual feeling of the high-wire act that painting like this, at its best, is. Every painting is done anew. Every painting must succeed on its own merits. Every painting is singular, the way entities are singular, with every attribute thus inevitable.

The color in these works is peculiar enough so that one knows it was necessary. I will quote myself, in this excerpt from a review of her work of several years ago : "Ann Clarke does abstract works that evoke space, paint, and life with equal force. She uses variations on what should be an utterly unpleasant beige with subtle additions of other, equally odd, colors: chrome greens, winey purples. These are quite extraordinary works. In one, a veiled red arcing away from a helpless pure red on one of those murky fields is inexplicably moving. This is just the sort of thing that only painters can do, and it's one reason why there'll always be painting." This somewhat nonplussed reaction later bloomed into an intense joy. It is wonderful that there could be work, still, evoking complex and strong specific reactions, that could inspire physical joy, with only the means belonging to form and color. This remains a mystery, and a wonder.


Duluth 19
March 2000