'Spitfires and Primroses', PACE London

13th February 2015 to 21st March 2015

Pace Gallery, 6-10 Lexington Street, London


Press release from PACE Gallery London for Spitfires and Primroses

"Presenting the artist’s stained-glass pieces and paintings, the exhibition will be on view at 6–10 Lexington Street from 13 February to 21 March 2015. Clarke’s solo exhibition will run in conjunction with A Strong Sweet Smell of Incense, a group exhibition curated by Clarke celebrating the seminal Swinging London art dealer who was both a friend and early supporter of Clarke.

Clarke developed his interest in glass out of exposure to British Gothic cathedrals during his childhood in northern England. Although he maintains a classical knowledge of the medium, he has developed it beyond its largely religious siting. Clarke has filtered his understanding of stained glass’s history and  technique through a contemporary canon, employing the delicate medium to make artworks in the non-ecclesiastical traditions of Pop Art and abstraction. In recognition of the significance of architecture and in situ work in his practice, Clarke will install a new stained-glass window specifically designed for the Lexington Street gallery. The selection of paintings also demonstrates the interaction between media in the artist’s oeuvre. Paintings frequently function as the genesis of Clarke’s stained glass works, yet the distinction between the opacity of painting versus the site-specific translucency of the glass, reveals his sensitivity to colour and material." – Pace Gallery

"Spitfires and Primroses, two seemingly diverse subjects, both embody themes explored in the 1970s. For these disparate choices, Clarke appoints two different treatments. The aspect of precision in the Spitfire paintings contrasts with the irregular, nebulous forms. The Primroses series is a study of outwardly unsystematic pattern produced by vegetative growth. Clarke’s earlier works based on natural forms – fleurs-de-lis, bluebells, orchids and leaves – all generated series. The multiple, factory-made Spitfires, like their stencilled outline, are treated by Clarke as both symbol and pattern, whereas primroses, though basically uniform in size and design, are vehicles for investigating randomly coalescing masses of free-form incidents of shape and colour. The Spitfires are ranged on a black ground or against yellowing clouds, Manga-Gothic nemeses. The flat presentation [...] the lacquer gloss of those on black matt canvas, and brushed passages like sophisticated gold-leaf work, again invoke Japanese art. Clarke’s dynamic canvases may be appreciated individually or serially; this is inherent in the Spitfires themselves. Individual and yet part of a squadron, each aeroplane was piloted by a solo airman, who also manned the guns. In 'Spitfire 6' a lone fighter is about to ascend a daunting bank of cloud. Is it in the vanguard or the last survivor of a decimated group? The silhouette implies one person struggling against unfavourable odds. The clouds become a ‘Cloud of Witnesses’. They are active participants, a barrier, background and foil. An historical allusion can be inferred here: Churchill described the threat of invasion as ‘The Gathering Storm’.

A flight of fighter-planes may engender admiration, alarm, pride or despair. Likewise, a road-side bank of primroses could elicit delight, hope or melancholy. Clarke relates that he first became fond of primroses in Devon. He studied at North Devon College of Art in Bideford, known then for the commercial production of a natural earth pigment, ‘Bideford Black’. Associated with the coal seams of South Wales, fifty kilometres to the north across the Bristol Channel, the mined pigments were exploited for over two hundred years in the manufacture of cosmetics, marine paint and, during World War II, camouflage: might this paint have impressed itself on Clarke’s palette, along with the primrose?" – Amanda Harrison in the catalogue Brian Clarke: Works 1977–85/Spitfires and Primroses.