Ed Clark, A Great Painter

Ed Clark, Paintings 2000-20013, Hauser and Wirth, NYC Sept 10-October 26, 2019

Blue and Red, 2006, 69” x 60”

PS I’m very sorry to say that I just found out that Ed Clark died last Friday. In the interview I quote from below, he also said “I want to be called ‘great’.” No problem, Ed.

When I saw my first Ed Clark, TBC… ( at “Painting Now and Forever Part 3”)* last summer, I did not think, “Oh, this must be some Abstract-expressionist woman or minority man that never got their due.” I thought Wow! Now! California? Surfer dude painter– but so amazingly skillful? And surfer dudes spend too much time surfing to achieve that.

Ed Clark “TBC(HS #94)” (2005)

Roberta Smith described my feelings exactly “an effortless, thrilling abstraction full of floating light that I couldn’t identify. “*

After finding out more about Clark: African American. 93 years old, a member of the Second-generation Abstract Expressionists, I was curious whether Clark might also be influenced by Chinese brush painting—the mastery and dynamics of his stroke suggest it. And so I read a long, very long interview with him and heard a lot of gossip, but didn’t find out much about the paintings, though Jack Whitten, the interviewer tried his best. Clark certainly has the personality of an Ab-Exer though— an egotistical macho bastard just like the rest of them.

4 wives, the last one 50 years younger. All the women were after him, he said. About his daughter: “No, I never thought she would be an artist. As I said, if she had been a male I would have maybe.”
About Romare Bearden: “But to me, I could smell old fashioned-ness in his work, you know.”
About Joan Mitchell: … “she was crazy about me but I wasn’t crazy about her, sexually.”
”When asked, “What symbol in art excites you?
“Well I’m a big ego guy, I think about me!”
“JW- But you see yourself as part of a movement?
EC- I’ve influenced a lot of people. I know that.”

But Clark also said “Because I love painting. I can’t think of nothing else.”
And I love him for that and the fact that for a member of that group, he has a very sunny personality. He loves to travel and he thinks of the lights and the colors of places he has been when he makes his paintings. He thinks of painting as a dance: “I don’t really, can’t really dance. But I meant that I’m just imagining myself with those strokes, so boom, boom, pouring. And I called it a dance.”

Nicolas de Staël, Parc des Princes (Les grands footballeurs), 1952

One of the few painters he would admit to being inspired by was Nicolas de Stael. He describes a painting: ”…it was an image of a football game! I didn’t know it had a story to it. Well, I was so shocked because in the painting, the football field had come right up onto the plane. I’m not interested in illustrating. But it was a football game, and I didn’t care. What I liked was that I’d never seen painting with these big strokes….”
A strange coincidence—when I looked up this painting, it was in the news: it sold the other day, Oct 16, 2019, a record for de Stael — 20 million euros.

It takes a lot of work, a lot of practice and a lot of discernment to make a stroke look effortless. It’s a kind of magic—how did he do that? I don’t actually associate that particular kind of magic with Abstract Expressionism. As more people are discovered, or perhaps I should say allowed in, I begin to wonder what does define it. Perhaps the true genius of Ab-Ex is the permission it gives to explore the undefinable, hitherto unpainted interior states of mind and even the observed world in an improvisatory way. Of course this will make the genre even bigger–and ongoing.

Clark’s weapon of choice is the pushbroom and he pushes the paint instead of pulling it. Not the most subtle of tools one would think, but in his hands it is. Red and Blue (pictured above) seems so simple—just two strokes–it isn’t. Just think about how you would go about copying it.



And there must be a lot of failures. But I appreciate how experimental Clark is–probably poured some water on this one. I think there must be some element of happy accident in all of them but it didn’t work for me. (To be fair, it was one of the favorites of the painter who accompanied me.)
In the center darkness there seems to be a spinal column, in the white below a baby in the womb—it makes the painting very static and confusing.



This painting does work for me, though, in a big way. Pure ecstatic motion.

I’m not all that interested in art history, as history that is. At MOMA, the other day, in the Ab-Ex room, a Norman Lewis leaped from the wall. And so did a Lee Krasner. It is right I guess to give artists their place in history with the people who influenced them and who they influenced,  but in another way, I don’t want to consign them to history just yet, so perhaps they might start in the contemporary wing, they are part of what’s happening now.

Actually Ed Clark was asked in that interview, what he would call himself. He said,
” I’ve maybe got to invent a name for it.”

That sounds about right.



Jack Whitten’s interview with Ed Clark:




*My review of Painting Now and forever Part 3:




*Roberta Smith