Caleb Clark attended a high school in rural Vermont with an exceptionally strong arts program, benefiting from teachers who had studied at New York’s famous Arts Students League. After graduating, he moved to Asheville, attended the late Fine Arts League of the Carolinas, and apprenticed with that school’s founder, classical and world-renowned realistic fresco painter Benjamin F. Long, IV.
“I am influenced by Renaissance and traditional art,” says Clark, “but I hope my work is accessible and not alienating because of my classical influence. I want to add elements to talk about modern life, to be a painter of my time – not trapped in the past. I like timeless paintings, where you can’t fix the time. But I also like to paint the people of that time, with contemporary elements.
Purists of realism prefer to omit such identifiers. “When doing figurative work,” says Clark, “they choose not to include a model’s tattoo or nose ring, for example.” But for Clark, these elements of the current style help convey the model’s personality in meaningful context. In his still life in charcoal and Eco pencil, modernity is marked by the juxtaposition of a light bulb next to the bleached skull of an otherwise timeless animal. .
Before the pandemic closed, Clark regularly did portraits and figurative work with live models. Like billions of people facing the challenges of social distancing, Clark has turned to nature for solace and companionship. He feels completely at home in the woods, and that’s where he started to paint. But in what might be the perfect metaphor for 2020, he’s chosen to do it under the cloak of darkness.
“I’ve always been drawn to night paintings like Whistler’s Nocturnes, which are really moody and have a great sense of lighting. I wanted to try it, and closing was a good opportunity… I walk near my house and find a place, then come back when it starts to get dark, with a flashlight and my easel.
While painting his Tree Nocturnes in the dark, Clark experienced a curious creative enlightenment. “In landscapes, you create the illusion of distance. Portraits and figurative works focus on creating a sense of form and less distance. But while I was painting this series, it occurred to me that there was an amalgamation of the two things that I really love to do: figurative painting and landscape painting. I feel like there is a less traditional feeling as well.
“These are figurative realistic paintings, but the lighting is not like a candle or a lantern. Some even have fluorescence, with those funky colors playing on it. I love being outdoors and still do them a year later so night painting is still interesting to me. I can’t wait to do more, and bigger ones.
Caleb Clark, Asheville. For more information visit calebclarkart.com and on Instagram: @calebclarkart. The artist is represented by Weaver Street Fine Art in Carrboro, North Carolina, where he presents a solo exhibition that opens Friday, September 10 and ends Tuesday, October 5. For more information, see the gallery’s Facebook page.