Stained glass screens
2015 – 2020
"We stand in front of this beautiful screen. Our rational mind tells us that this world we are staring into is less than half a centimetre thick but every other aspect of our sensibility and emotional life tells us this isn’t so." – from The Art of Light.
The folding screens are an informal series currently standing at thirty artworks. Begun in 2015, they represent the very front end of contemporary art's long engagement with the medium of stained glass, and a new phase in their relationship: taking the medium out of church windows, out of the monumental corporate and institutional applications that Clarke pioneered, and into a new place in architecture – the home, the museum, and the gallery – they are Clarke's major independent work of the last four years. Each screen is made up of 12 panels of mouthblown stained glass, principally made without lead, in a lacquered hardwood frame. These movable works of art instantly create a mood that responds to the time and season, caressing the interior of a room with coloured light: intimate walls of glass that have a changing presence by day and night. Drawing inspiration from ‘the botanical, cosmological and biographical’, and both beautiful and functional, each screen is produced by HENI in an edition of 10 unique variants, plus 3 artist’s proofs.
These works, 'the expression of ideas that started forming in Clarke's mind in the 1980s', and which he describes as "possessing a celluloid quality, a cinematic drama" – have been produced using advances developed in tandem with and for them, dispensing with the dividing lead support that has been a necessary component of stained glass through most of its existence. Merging the traditional techniques of glassblowing with his decades of exploration through and advancement of the medium, they are recogognised as a milestone in the history of a major art form. First exhibited as a series in full in 2018 as an installation in Norman Foster's Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, and in in 2020–2021 on view in The Art of Light at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York.
"The screens are a way of getting stained glass into the culture through the back door, so it becomes a portable art rather than architectural art. The editions of screens each represent to me an architectural opportunity. They are me seeking to find an articulate and flexible language to say something that hasn’t necessarily been said before in the medium. The screens have really unlocked an extremely exciting Pandora's Box: though essentially what you see in them is not that far distant from the craft of the Middle Ages, it is fundamentally different from it in other ways.
The potential scope of interest expressed in the screens is as broad-ranging as human experience itself is, and I can imagine, when I’m working on them, every possible typology of architecture, every possible type of stylistic experience. I can think about things that I would like to say in meditational spaces, in sacred and in secular spaces, in public spaces, in transport hubs, in little cottages, in airport terminal buildings, in factories. I am a working class artist; my art is an art for the mass: I want to communicate this idea of intimacy and poetic transcendence to as many people as possible. So each of these screens is not only reaching out to one architectural type or societal type of building, it’s also reaching out soul-to-soul between human beings." – Brian, 2020.