THERE AND HERE
Oil Paintings of Australia, New Zealand and back in Britain
HILDA MARGERY CLARKE
a follow-up to the 2004
show Here and There
(being the Northern half of her round-the-world trip)
Sat 29 March – Sat 12 April 2008 now Extended to 20 April
In 2002, like Mole in The Wind in the Willows, HILDA MARGERY CLARKE "threw down her whitewash brush" and set off on a series of non-'package', and mostly unaccompanied, journeys. An apparently prosaic start, three weeks in Ramsgate – the Regency spa with its Victorian terraces, harbours and sands – provided a lifetime's visual material, but painting this was interrupted by taking in the complete Norwegian Coastal Voyage, right up to the Russian Border. Her head now crammed with images, she 'roughed in' numerous paintings, before three months of travel in Australia and New Zealand, with a brief stopover in Thailand. On her return, those 'outline' paintings provided the basis of the first artistic travelogue, Here and There, shown in 2004 ( see elsewhere on this site).
HMC started painting seriously in 1947, with private tuition in Hamburg and her native Manchester. In 1954, newly married, she came to Southampton, her home ever since. (In fact, long before it was a gallery, "The First" became her first owned home, brand-new, in January 1955: one reason the Clarkes so named the house). At the Art College (now absorbed into Solent University) she studied life-drawing, sculpture and printmaking, part-time, for nearly 30 years. Her subject matter encompasses landscapes, the sea, incidents, but mostly (non-specific) people. Humankind doing things – or just standing! – is a particular favourite. She layers the paint slowly, usually thinly by brush, sometimes finishing exuberantly with a palette-knife. In order that they can dry thoroughly, she keeps about 30 pictures on the go at once: some take years, even decades.
While completion may be lengthy, commencement is swift. HMC almost never works on location: no photos, few drawings — her strong visual memory for salient points means quick 'reminder' pencil-strokes are all she needs. VERY occasionally she'll use others' photos afterwards, as reminders (or – even more rarely – inspiration) but many works begin life as fleeting glimpses, burned into her mind with no other record and worked into paintings in the studio. After 'laying-in' paintings (without finishing) she can return to them, sometimes much later. This process works best if started soon after the 'trigger' image has been seen: already abstracted in her head, it is set down unhesitatingly, without 'workings through' in the traditional art-training sense.
Although technically skilful, HMC works instinctively, believing that dedicated artists are humble mediums for "things to flow through". Often she cannot forecast how a piece will end up, like certain novelists who cast their characters adrift and 'follow' where they lead: paintings are complete only when nothing more need be added. Such assessing takes time, so previous shows have happened only after the works were ready.
Because Here and There, and its content, had already been mooted, the works for it were completed faster. As it turned out, a travel-exhibition covering all four places (UK, Norway, Australia and New Zealand) would have overflowed: with so much work unfinished (in fact most unstarted!), it was split into two [fortuitous] hemispheres, hence the current show There and Here.
Despite solo outings both locally and further afield, and mixed shows countrywide – including London – Hilda Margery Clarke is hardly what you'd call "established", owning far more work than she's sold in the last 60 years. So why keep doing it? Driven by a primal urge to paint, rather than to sell, she won't compromise to satisfy any latest fashion. True art, she believes, must be more than just decorative: it has to add something worthwhile to all our experience (without being as 'heavy' as perhaps that sounds!). But that principled approach normally precludes wide audiences — unless one gets 'discovered' by the market (which usually results in the above compromise!)
There and Here is planned to comprise some 50 paintings, with further work unframed, all for sale: a good opportunity to see the breadth of this largely unsung artist.
Some pictures of Ramsgate and Norway were not ready in time for the HERE AND THERE show, so are included now.
38 DISTANT MONOLITH 2002 – 07 532 x 379
The pier is located in the middle of the waterfront, forming an edge to the harbour. I can recommend Ramsgate. Once a fashionable Victorian spa, it has beautiful architecture (much of it Regency), sands at one end and a high promenade at the other, with an active harbour in between. It has associations with Turner, William Dyce and William Powell Frith, who painted his famous Ramsgate Sands. They were attracted by the light which is very clear, much like St. Ives. Turner, who lived for a time in nearby Margate, considered it the best in England. Ramsgate did have a lovely art gallery and library but this sadly burnt down and I fear the library is being replaced without a gallery. During WW2 the town was vulnerable to air attacks and the rescue service saved many lives, including ditched enemy pilots. The Dunkirk Evacuation was their largest operation and one of the 'small boats' is still moored by the harbour.
22 FISHERMEN ON THE PIER, RAMSGATE 2002 – 07 248 x 353
25 YACHT BY QUEEN MARY 2 I 2006 250 x 289 [2 x smaller versions available]
Seen on a trip round Southampton Docks.
The first whites to discover this, initially mistook it for a ruined city. Amazingly it is a natural formation caused by erosion. A lifetime could be spent drawing it. In the travel guides it is always shown at sunset when the glow turns it gold. At other times it is a much softer colour with greys amongst the soft yellowish tones. Not evident from any illustrations is the vastness of the area: it is not safe to enter it alone, though native creatures, like emus, thrive in it. www.naturebase.net/component.option,com_hotproperty/task,view/id,61/Itemid,755/
16 PINNACLES DESERT, W.A. 2006 – 08 519 x 613
This is an imaginative impression worked from notes of these hanging cars and large turning machine. I arrived there on National Day (17th May), which is enthusiastically celebrated because of the previous bleak years when Norway was occupied. The people don their national costume and dance. Even in the pouring rain, the local bands come down to the meet the docking ships. It is very joyous. I intended to depict all the people in their holiday dress but, like others in this show, the picture had a mind of its own!
19 NORWEGIAN FUNFAIR 2002 – 07 909 x 866
The "Sunrise Experience" is a tourist attraction, including champagne set out on small tables. Even this commercialising does not destroy the grandeur.
26 ULURU SUNRISE 2002 – 06 170 x 253
44 TROUPE RESTING, ALICE SPRINGS II 2007 164 x 198 [larger version available]
The train from the lush spring greenery of Bergen en route to Oslo climbs to these heights at Finse, were there are these holiday huts. It then descends to the civilisation of Oslo. Norwegians, when they marry, buy their first home and tend to stay in it. Instead of upgrading, they buy a house in the country such as these. Not surprisingly they are deserted in the winter, when it is so cold people have to cover their faces to prevent frostbite.
11 SUMMER HUTS IN SNOW, NORWAY 2002 – 08 296 x 399
7 SINTER TERRACES, WARBRICK, WAIMANGU, NZ 408 x 598
Volcanic eruptions, boiling mud, steaming pools and spouting geysers are part of the continuous natural formation of the land. These terraces seem permanent but eventually could disappear in an upheaval similar to the one which destroyed the spectacular pink terraces (which I think were the largest in the world) with loss of lives and homes. Sinter is the incrusted deposit, on underlying rocks, of the chemicals suspended in mineral waters.