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Study for My Garage 2001 watercolor on paper

Timothy J. Clark
at Hammer Galleries

(Photos courtesy of Hammer Galleries)

ART TIMES March 2009

PAINTERS WHO HAVE tried their hand at representational art in the medium of watercolor know that it takes more than the will to succeed…much, much more. First and foremost the accomplished watercolorist needs a sure hand, since each stroke of the brush is not only telling but permanently “on record” for all to see, each misstep a glaring distraction from the motif and/or effect desired. In short, it takes the confidence of a mature draftsman, one with a seasoned eye for light and form, a sure sense of composition, a sensibility that is trained in the use of colors and how they work one against (or for) the other, a fluidity of brushstroke, and lastly, an innate instinct for just what makes a ‘good’ picture. The 30+ paintings in this solo exhibition at the Hammer Galleries* certainly reveals Timothy J. Clark as firmly in charge of all of the intricacies of this most demanding of mediums…without doubt, Clarke’s “Sense of Solace” reflects the craft of a master watercolorist.

Vermazza 1994 watercolor on paper

It ought to be noted that there were several oils in the show — “McSorley’s Bar”, “Serenity”, and the charming little study, “Studio Sink” — but, for this viewer, it was the watercolors that consistently drew me onward through the several galleries that housed the show. If the two paintings displayed in Hammer’s front windows — “The Bicycle” and “San Carlos al Corso Crepuscular” — offered a ‘sneak preview’ of the range of motifs that lie in store for the viewer inside, a large watercolor hanging on the right wall as you entered set the stage for the complexity of Clark’s overall aesthetic vision. “Study for My Garage”, a painting of the interior of a workshop, is literally crammed from floor to ceiling with tools, tubs, fan belts, cans, jugs, vises, machines, and whatever flotsam and jetsam has been banned from the house (including a pin-up hanging on the far wall), Clark’s skillful handling of color, form, and composition never allowing this incredible hodge-podge of objects to remain — well, a hodge-podge — but, instead, presenting them as a finely-crafted panorama of mini-still lifes, each separate and fully-realized, each perspectively ‘correct’, each comfortably nestled alongside its neighbor.

Family Reunion, 2008 watercolor on paper

Range — from portraits of homely hand tools (among my particular favorites, reminding me of John Carlson who, while teaching at the League’s summer sessions during Woodstock’s heyday as an art colony, admonished his students to skip the exotics and paint what they could find “in their backyards”), to portraits of beautiful women in interior settings, to snatches of architecture in foreign lands, to landscapes of exotic climes — and complexity — as noted in his “Study for My Garage”, but evident throughout the exhibit — are not the only hallmarks of Clark’s visually-stunning oeuvre. He switches easily from soft- to hard-edge, from bold statement to nuanced suggestion, from small- to large-scale, all the time subtly modifying and muting his color (often using soft, lavender/violet tones) in ways that invite the viewer “inside” — whether it be a living room — “Reading” (and others); a Plaza — “Clock Tower, Venice” (and others); a street scene — “Water Carrier Rhythms”; or a church interior, “Serra Chapel” — or, indeed, even into his Garage with his signature purplish wash on floor and ceiling. As if this were not enough to challenge his resources, Clark even includes a night scene, “Moonlit Night, Maine” ‘ but it is his deft play of light (see, for example his skies in “Angra Rooftops and Sky”, Piazza del Popolo”, and “Clock Tower, Venice”) that is his forte.

The Bicycle 2008 watercolor on paper

Were I pushed to ‘pigeon-hole’ Clark (which is always a risky thing in critiquing an artist), I would characterize his work as ‘Impressionistic Realism” — though, of course, each individual viewer will come away with his/her own conclusion. And though he can certainly put to paper the lovely form of a woman in the intimacy of her home (“On the Sofa”), an architectural detail (“Bernini Balcony and Angels”), or a view of a townscape (“Vernazza”), it is when Clark tightens his focus on a hand tool, a bicycle, a tractor, or a corner of a shed, that I feel both his power and his warmth as a chronicler of our passing world. I applaud the perspicuity of the Hammer Galleries in mounting this show and hope that this first solo showing of Clark’s work in their showrooms is only the beginning of a long and lasting relationship.

(“Timothy J. Clark: Sense of Solace” Jan 13—Feb 7): Hammer Galleries, 33 West 57th St., NYC (212) 644-4400. hammergalleries.com. A fully-illustrated catalogue is available (see New Art Books listing this Issue).

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