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The Confederation Centre Art Gallery is featuring a new exhibit by one of the most prominent Canadian artists of the 1960s and '70s.
P.E.I.-based artist Gerard Clarkes, 87, has been given a large section of the gallery to showcase his dramatic landscapes, dream worlds and shadowy figures.
The exhibition, which runs until May 9, is called Gerard Clarkes: A Haunted Land.
Many of the paintings had been in storage in Clarkes’ home in Belfast.
The selection of art is work that Clarkes produced in Toronto nearly a half century ago with a few recent portraits and works from the past decade mixed in. Most of the selected works have not been previously exhibited in Atlantic Canada.
The Guardian sat down with Clarkes recently to talk about his works. However, talking about himself is not something he likes to do. And, don’t tell him it’s because he is humble.
“No, no, no. Humility has nothing to do with it," Clarkes said when asked how it feels to have his works up on the walls at the art gallery. “It’s OK; it’s fine. I couldn’t imagine anybody would want to show these works, not because they’re good or bad but because they’re paintings on a canvas using mainly little brushes."
Born in 1934, Clarkes studied art in his native Winnipeg as well as in Montreal and Toronto. By the early 1960s, he was represented by major galleries in Toronto and Montreal and had solo exhibitions in Toronto and Vancouver. By the mid-60s, he was appointed director of art at York University in Toronto and later director of the Burnaby Art Gallery in British Columbia.
Following is more information on artist Gerard Clarkes:
- His works can be found in public and private collections, including at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., the Woodstock Art Gallery and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.
- Since 1985, he composed music almost exclusively until returning actively to painting in the past decade.
- He maintains a rural home and studio in P.E.I. where he settled in 1990.
Pan Wendt, curator of the Confederation Centre Art Gallery, said the exhibit defies easy categorization, noting that Clarkes’ paintings often depict enigmatic casts of characters positioned in elusive landscapes, like actors in a tableau.
“His paintings are in some of the finest museums across Canada," Wendt said. “The aim of this exhibition is to introduce the paintings of Gerard Clarkes to a new audience. He was one of the most prominent Canadians painters of the 1960s and '70s who exhibited with major art galleries.
“He’s just not known in the art world now. I think it’s a treat for people to see things the public has not seen in years."
Clarkes said he’s been painting since he was a child but having his works shown in galleries wasn’t foremost in his mind as a young man. He spent the first nine years of his career as a journalist, working for British United Press and Press International. His passion at the time was economic journalism.
“I had to eat so I became a journalist. Journalism was a tough business. You weren’t very well paid and you worked long hours."
Clarkes said he went on to study art and art history. Somewhere in there, he said galleries started opening and showing works.
However, Clarkes dismisses any notion that he is gifted.
“It’s ingrained in everyone," he said, adding that some of the least talented people he knew as a young man went on to become some of the best painters.
Clarkes said he wonders what he could have accomplished as a painter had he had more discipline and energy.
Still, Clarkes admits it’s nice to feel recognized as an artist again.
“They’ve pulled me out of the dust bin and dusted me off. I’m grateful. My grandchildren will see these. It’s nice to be viable. It means what you were back then isn't totally irrelevant."
The following works are being shown at the Confederation Centre Art Gallery:
- Gerard Clarkes: A Haunted Land, until May 9.
Curated by Pan Wendt, it features a large selection of the enigmatic, theatrical landscapes Clarkes produced in Toronto in the 1960s and 1970s, along with recent work.
- The Drive, Jan. 23-May 2.
Curated by Shauna McCabe and Brian Meehan; and organized by the Art Gallery of Guelph, it features the work of Tom Thompson, the Group of Seven and their peers in relation to diverse Indigenous and Canadian artists in order to highlight the complexity of the representation of landscape, particularly as it relates to the land and the history of resource development.
- Eye Candy: Recent Gifts to the Collection, until April 4.
A selection of works by Canadian painters, recently donated to the collection of Confederation Centre Art Gallery.
- Give Me Shelter, until April 4.
Curated by Pan Wendt, Emerging Art Series.
Thirteen emerging artists based in St. John’s, N.L., reflect on the richness of a cultural community that is steeped in both tradition and looking towards a rapidly changing future.
Dave Stewart is The Guardian's culture reporter.