Brian Clarke: Works 1977–1985 (as curated by Robert Fraser)

6th February 2015 to 28th March 2015

PACE Gallery, Royal Academy of Arts, Burlington House, London


In the context of an affectionate and impressive tribute to Robert Fraser’s decisive contribution to the art scene in Britain – which he lit up from 1962 until 1985 – a brief explication of the associated exhibition of Brian Clarke’s paintings seems appropriate. The paintings in question span the period 1977 to 1983: they were made, that is, while Clarke was in his twenties. Evidently the narrow chronology has been adopted because it parallels exactly his relationship with Fraser. They were close friends (and partners in mayhem) during those years, and in 1981, five years before his premature death, Fraser became Clarke’s gallerist.

I remember it was the 1977 ‘Punk’ paintings that first attracted Fraser’s support of the young artist. Clarke occupied the aesthetic rather than the political wing of Punk, but the exuberant energy and iconoclasm of 'Dangerous Visions I', 'II' and 'III', in particular, resonated strongly with Fraser. Soon afterwards, Clarke reverted to his engagement with an essentially constructivist language, which he sought to rethink and reinvigorate. By the time he painted 'De Profundis', 1982, he was combining geometric motifs with a painterly lyricism, exploring the tension between opposites which has been a leitmotif of his art. After a hiatus during which he spent several years in India, Fraser reopened his gallery at 21 Cork Street in June 1983 with ‘Brian Clarke: Paintings’. It was a kind of homecoming for both dealer and artist, for most of the exhibition had been painted while Clarke was living in Düsseldorf and Rome. Two of the paintings have been retrieved for this occasion, others are now dispersed, or worse, destroyed. Yet they had vindicated Fraser’s faith and demonstrated that the potential of neoplasticism was not exhausted, that its language of forms need not to be consigned to art-historical studies of early modernism. A significant body of work, even if it did not align with contemporary orthodoxies, it thoroughly deserves, like Robert Fraser’s equally unorthodox role as a creative gallerist, this timely celebration.” – Martin Harrison, in the introduction to the catalogue.