Facade 2013. Oil and lino on canvas, 122x122cm
Jake Clark grew up in sunny Mallorca. His father was a professional commercial photographer who documented hotels for travel and package holiday brochures. When Clark was eight, he was moved back to a much less sunny England. Here, although there were seasides with hotels, they were, as you might imagine, not quite the same seasides as those in Mallorca. In this way, there may have originated at least some of the themes that characterise Clark’s creative practice.
After commencing a BA fine art photography course, and showing an interest in seaside and recreational architecture, Clark changed to a BA painting course and then a painting MA at the Royal College of Art. Transferring from photography to painting was not so much a change, but more an expansion of interest, with a continuing emphasis on the often lurid absurdities of tourism. Whatever the reason Clark changed studies, his outlook became one in which painting sits in an intimate relationship with photography. Since then he has expanded further, putting photography and painting into a close relationship with the sculptural models he now makes.
These three areas are managed by Clark so as to be in reciprocating communication with each other; a working process that both denies and preserves their individual identities. It is achieved with an improbable, slightly impenetrable, irreverence. The process seems to occur as follows: Clark takes a photograph (in which respect he is a photographer); he works paint onto the surface of the photograph, thus intervening between the two media (in which respect he is a visual artist); he makes an oil painting based on this image (he is a painter); sometimes he takes a photograph of this painting, and paints on the photograph (an intervention, again); sometimes he makes a sculptural model, based on an object depicted in the painting (he is a sculptor); he then paints in polychrome on the surface of this model (he is a painter); he exhibits the model in the same lighting conditions as they are depicted in the painting (he is an installation artist).
The ostensible subject – the kitsch, pop-culture derangements of the seaside, especially its architecture – are the surface of his work. It’s a popularly recognised surface, given attention by a multitude of artists, writers and musicians before Clark, who have documented the fun, disinhibition, impoverishment, abandonment, faded pigments and ludicrous absurdities of the seaside. In Clark’s case, this seaside madness was his home as a child (it is notable that many paintings depict the feet of his mother). He gives an introspective emphasis to his depictions of both interior and exterior seaside architecture, situated in strange, car-focused, coastal-edge peripheries, amongst lost cul-de-sacs, roadways, statement walls, lamp posts and other street furniture. Domestic interiority is given poignancy through the use of the domestic lino placed in collage on the surfaces of his works, and in other evidences of forgotten taste.
In this sense, Clark’s work is about ideas of home and childhood, whether this be the artist’s, or the shared seaside childhood experiences that are so central to British cultural identity.
Clark has fun while the sun shines; summoning playful colours and textures in sometimes wild combinations, in cascades of bright, toy-design humour . . . until they are compromised by severe noon shadows, or the dark weather of shadowy, introspective nostalgia – with fear, regret and threat. Pigments that were once bright and optimistic are now subject to decay by ultra-violet light, and erosion by hard, wind-driven rain and salt-water; the bright colours of daytime destroyed in a night-time hell of monotonous municipal sodium street lights. Clark’s painterly context for this is the deliberate, grungy physical imperfection of the canvas where his colours are situated.
Grunginess – dirt, disorder, grime, mess – is an integral part of Clark’s creation of ideas of value. It is a theme in certain kinds of painting practice, in which high painterly idealism is seen to be corrupted, or failed, or defeated. In some respects the particularity of effect of Clark’s thick, uneven, grungy patinas are analogous with the decay of Britain’s seaside towns, an analogy which continues with ideas of childhood. Toys, play, exaggerated fun colour, and safe round edges come to suffer the discolorations that occur when toys are left out in the sun, and become artificially aged, and dirty, and the plastic becomes brittle.
The furthest extension of a perfect/imperfect analogy might be the high wonder of intoxication. Summer and the seaside are a good time for the delights of recreational drug and alcohol experiences, when the trippy vibrancy of all things – cheap bed and breakfast houses and mini-golf courses included – pulse with the energy rays of cosmic sunshine. But everything is subject to the universal justice of a cosmic comedown. This law, sadly, often requires that pleasure be paid back, and that positive meaning may come to be replaced with an absence
. . . an absence that attracts an uncomfortable, ominous wind, coming in from afar, from colder parts.
Text written by Neal Brown 2016 ©
Beach Golf 2015. Oil and vinyl on canvas, 51x40cm