Portrait Paintings on View >
Howard University Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Through March 7, 2022
Best known for his large-scale watercolor portrait paintings, the American artist Timothy J. Clark (b. 1951) is the subject of a solo exhibition at the Howard University Gallery of Art this season. Titled “Family Reunion: Portraits by Timothy J. Clark,” the show features more than 20 watercolors and drawings that convey Clark’s deep insights into an array of talented musicians, artists, and other sitters of color he has befriended over many years. Most of the portraits were started before the pandemic — some entirely from memory — but were finalized in 2021 in anticipation of this display.
Among Clark’s sitters are such distinguished jazz musicians as Teddy Buckner, Art Davis, Jack McVea, and Michael White, visual artists like Gaye Ellington, Dennis Lewis, James Little, and Faith Ringgold, the entrepreneur Tony Forte, and the designer Jenn Torres Forte. The exhibition has been selected and organized by Howard’s gallery director, Dr. Lisa Farrington, who herself appears in several works, and who chose to include a few superb still lifes as well. (Farrington authored the main essay in Pomegranate Press’s 2008 monograph on Clark.)
Born in Santa Ana, California, Clark was hooked on art from his first class. Luckily, he found teachers who helped him look at art from traditional and modernist perspectives: at 18, he entered Los Angeles’s Art Center College of Design, where he was mentored by Harry Carmean in a department led by the modernist Lorser Feitelson. Here, says Clark, he got solid skills, so he moved on to get concepts from Hal Kramer, Don Graham, and Emerson Woelffer at the nearby Chouinard Art Institute as it was merged into what is now CalArts. Clark capped his education with a Master’s in painting at California State University, Long Beach, where he worked with Joyce Tremain, but the real learning came — as it must — through experience in the studio.
Clark notes that Abstract Expressionism and photography were widely revered during his student years, and his career might well have blossomed more easily had he pursued one of those directions. Yet Clark “believed then, as I believe now, that there is a place for emotional and aesthetic figurative painting in today’s world.”
Time has proved him right, yet it is revealing that Clark prefers the word “figurative” to “realist”: in keeping with his modernist training, he is just as interested in formal effects as in subjects, and wants viewers to apprehend both fully.
The presentation of this show at a major university is all the more appropriate, as Clark has taught regularly since he was 21. He currently divides the year between studios in New York City, West Bath (Maine), and Capistrano Beach (California), and looks forward to traveling abroad again as soon as public health conditions allow.
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