Portrait of Ed Clark. Photo: Chester Higgins Jr/The New York Times/Redux

Remembering Ed Clark

  • Sat 30 October 2021
  • 7 pm

Please join us for a special celebration in memory of the American artist Ed Clark (1926 – 2019) that will be livestreamed on hauserwirth.com from the Whitney Museum of American Art. Speakers will include Adam D. Weinberg, Franklin Sirmans, Jay Milder, Thelma Golden, Dawoud Bey, Melvin Edwards, and Melanca Clark, along with a performance by Dick Griffin. RSVP and visit this page on the day of the memorial to view the livestream.

‘No matter what I do, there’s not a day that I’m not an artist.’—Ed Clark

Edward ‘Ed’ Clark was born in the Storyville section of New Orleans on May 6, 1926, to Edward Clark and Merion (Hutchinson) Clark. At the age of 17, Clark left high school and enlisted in the air force during World War II; he was stationed for two years in the South Pacific and returned to Chicago upon his discharge. With the aid of the GI Bill, Clark enrolled in the Art Institute of Chicago in 1947, where he studied with painter Louis Ritman and art historian Helen Gardner. In 1952, he left Chicago and moved to Paris, where he attended the Académie de la Grande Chaumiere, and studied with Edouard Goerg and Ossip Zadkine.

After his studies in Paris, Clark continued to live and work in France, absorbing the influence of such European modernists as Nicolas de Staël and Pierre Soulages. He became a member of a social and intellectual circle of American expatriate artists and writers. Clark settled in New York in 1957, where over the ensuing decade he became part of the city’s dynamic downtown scene and a co-founder of the Brata Gallery, an artist-run cooperative among the Tenth Street galleries of the East Village. From the late 1960s until the last decade, Clark split his time between New York and Paris, traveling extensively to other locales from Mexico and Brazil to North Africa and Greece.

Over the course of seven decades, his experimentations with pure color, abstract form, and the seductive materiality of paint yielded an oeuvre of remarkable originality, extending the language of American abstraction. Clark’s breakthroughs have an important place in the story of modern and contemporary art: in the late 1950s he was the first American artist credited with exhibiting a shaped canvas, an innovation that continues to reverberate today. His search for a means to breach the limitations of the conventional paintbrush led him to use a push broom to apply pigment to canvas laid out on the floor. Defying the discreet categories of gestural and hard-edged abstraction, Clark masterfully interwove these approaches into a unique form of expressionism.

‘The big sweep,’ Clark’s masterful and idiosyncratic use of the broom, led to new ways of moving paint across the surface of the canvas Recognition for his innovations included the National Endowment for the Art’s Award in Painting (1972 and 1985.) The Joan Mitchell Foundation Grant (1988), and more recently The Art Institute of Chicago and the Detroit Institute of Arts have honored his legacy (2013 and 2020, respectively.)

Clark had many loves and married four times. His only child Melanca, born to Hedy (Durham) Clark, was the light of his life. He was an incredibly active and involved parent and in his later years had the opportunity to also dote on his grandchildren, Nyla and Amar, and son-in-law Moddie Turay.

Clark, or as he would say, the ‘kid himself,’ was lovingly known as a rascal, flirt, and equal parts charmer and ‘grump’ by his many friends. He loved to hold court at his loft on 22nd street in Chelsea, or his various studios at the Cité des Arts in Paris. Intended short visits would often extend to hours as there was always another book or photograph to see, (‘go get my magnifying glass’), a story to tell, or one last point to make.

In 2019, while living in Detroit, Clark passed away at the age of 93. ‘No matter what I do,’ the artist said, ‘there’s not a day that I’m not an artist.’