'Night Orchids'


"Night Orchids, like most of my drawings, are imaginings of coloured architectural experiences—sometimes I have a frontal view, sometimes from above, at an angle of about 30 degrees, and so on—huge walls of stained glass flickering with liquid colour, that sort of thing, a sort of harnessed euphoria. I think a lot of my drawings are scaled-down sketches of something architectural, about 1:25 or 1:50. It’s not always a conscious decision, but architectural space and the sense of experiencing colour through volume in an imagined building or structure never seems far away."  Brian

Exhibited in full in 2016 at PACE Gallery London in Night Orchids, accompanied by a catalogue prefaced with a conversation between art critic Robert Storr and Clarke, this series is among Clarke's major bodies of work. Beginning with calligraphic line drawings and fragmented/deconstructed heraldic ciphers – the fleur-de-lys, the Spitfire – and developing through densely-painted watercolours and collaged cut-outs, the 268 Night Orchids, all executed on black paper and uniformly framed, gather Clarke's sweeping, signature investigations across multiple media and condense them within an explicitly-contained environment: exhibited or published together, the uniformity of presentation and diversity of approach highlights the invention of an artist in pursuit of 'moments of intense connection to being part of the world'.

The works feature in the THAMES MMXX. series of editioned skateboard decks, THAMES/BRIAN Night Orchids, released in May 2021 by artist and designer Blondey McCoy.

Selections of Night Orchids have been exhibited together with the related works in lead on sheet lead and glass mosaic in The Art of Light at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts and at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York, and in Brian Clarke: On Line at Arts University Bournemouth.

Robert Storr: “When, in the second half of the first fifty or so pages, the images burst into full color, that color is often mottled – blue and yellow inflect scarlet; blue blushes red and purple admixtures as well as yellow; diffuse, cloudlike expanses of white overlap with gold and ultramarine; pink areas are accented by pale greens; crimsons marble with daffodil hues and shades of peach that are, in turn, highlighted by cool cobalt blues. Are you inventing your own palette like a nocturnal orchid breeder playing with nature in his greenhouse in the glow of blindingly bright lamps? I have that image in mind because as a boy I remember looking up at the attic of a house on our street where a neighbor, the great African-American historian John Hope Franklin, used to do just that after a long day of library research, like a mad scientist moonlighting at home. What kind of light do you have when you paint and draw?” – the art critic and former senior curator of the Museum of Modern Art in conversation with Brian in the catalogue Night Orchids, published by HENI.