There are two types of art. There is art that soothes, and there is art that disquietens the soul.
Soothing art speaks to the side of ourselves that responds to color, and light, and the way we want to see the world.
The art that disquietens speaks to our darker side. That is the art that sees the world as it is, and asks for things to change. It is the art of discontent, perhaps even the art of revolution.
Artist Craig Clark agrees that his art can gravitate towards the disquieting side. But that is its power. That is why it has been shown in art galleries in Russia, and Rome, as well as Southeast Missouri. Locally, he has exhibited at Fay’s Place and the Black River Gallery.
Southeast Missouri is not really accustomed to unusual artists, so people who come to see his art are always intrigued, but not quite sure of what it means to them.
Clark is not a classically trained artist. He didn’t attend art school. He is self-taught, but that perhaps contributes to the freshness of his work. He has not spent years learning about art history to encumber his style.
I found that to be so when I mentioned to him that his work reminded me of the work of Jean-Michel Basquiat, who was an American artist, musician and producer who made his name in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. He was classified as a Neo-expressionist and Primitivist painter, and he helped escalate the whole hip-hop, post-punk street art movement of the 1980’s. There was even a film made about Basquiat’s life.
Clark wasn’t familiar with Basquiat’s work, but he did understand the sentiment behind the work. Basquiat’s frequent theme in his work were the struggles of life. He explored wealth and poverty, integration and segregation, and inner experience versus outer experience. He openly attacked the power structures and the systems of racism.
Those are frequent themes in the art of urban graffiti artists, and even though Clark lives in Fisk, Missouri, he is not oblivious to the struggles going on around him.
“I did know a famous graffiti artist at one time who has since passed on,” reminisced Clark. “We had some great conversations, and I definitely miss her. She had a definite impact on my work.”
Clark is difficult to get to know. He is very reticent in talking about his own life.
Though he is from Southeast Missouri, he spent time in Hawaii and Alaska.
His father was a Vietnam War Veteran, and he describes his father as mostly absent from his life.
“My mother was pretty much a single parent for my brother and myself,” explained Clark. His father died several years ago.
So Clark has not necessarily had an easy life, and those struggles show in his work.
“When I was painting the portrait that I sent to Rome for an exhibition, I was thinking about factories that I had worked in, and that had closed. My eyes in the painting were blue, representing how lost I felt. And my graduation cap represented my struggles to overcome all of that,” explained Clark.
He had his work first exhibited in Anchorage, Alaska when he was only 16.
Clark has been interested in art his whole life, and also in science for much of his life. He agrees that sometimes, the science finds its way into his art.
“I recently did a painting of a triple solar system,” commented the artist. “That reflects the interest I have in astronomy.”
He thinks social topics will continue to effect his art work. He is particularly interested in the changes taking place in the area of civil rights with the LGBT Community, and many other communities which have traditionally been hiding in the shadows, and are now beginning to show their strength.
He understands the need for bravery.
“I’ve really had to push my own art career. Even as a teenager, I was fighting to get my work seen in other places. And I just never gave up,” said Clark.
He says he will continue the push to get his artwork seen in areas outside Southeast Missouri.
“I think my work speaks for a lot of people. People all over the world are going through basically the same struggles, and I think when they see my work, they somehow feel less alone,” said Clark.
Art and science are not Clark’s only interests, though. He has also become intensely interested in organic gardening. He hopes to this summer have produce to sell at local farmers markets.
Clark will also be showing his art work and actually painting at next Saturday’s Spring Fling, being held April 11 at Poplar Bluff’s Historic Train Depot.
He hopes to meet many new people and talk about his work, both in art, science, and organic gardening.
He even holds an associate’s degree from University of Phoenix in Health Care Administration. He’s proud of the degree and the work it took to obtain it.
Such varied interests.
Are they all related?
“Yes,” smiled Clark. “Everything is related.”
He’s way beyond his 35 years to get that.
Come meet a very interesting artist.