Studies in Grisaille: I, II, & III


"The 'Studies in Grisaille' introduce us most profoundly to Clarke's new ethos of stained glass without lead. They are enormous single sheets, in which a calm, pointillist sea fills the picture plane. In the distance, a single battleship glides past, quietly yet ominously; a symbol of death perhaps, disturbing the calm. In these works, linearity had now become a choice, not a technologial determinant, and the flow this opened up allowed fields of colour and pattern, made up of planes, dots and marks, to interlace with representational imagery. Despite his deep interest in first generation abstraction and, most notably, Constructivism and De Stijl, the artist had never accepted pure abstraction as a given. He has always been a symbolist." – art historian Paul Greenhalgh writing in The Art of Light.

In Clarke's own words, "the Studies in Grisaille or Battleships are three stained glass works, all the same size, in different colours. The source photos were taken by me with a digital camera. When I made them John Edwards was, by that time, nearing the end of his life, in hospital 3 days a week. You see, John had no idea he had lung cancer – he just had a bit of a cough, went to the doctor for some cough medicine. He had no idea it was coming. There was a period where John was at home in Thailand and couldn’t move, was fading away, getting thinner. One day when I was with him while he was sat there, looking out over the sea, there was a US Navy ship, a frigate I think, in the bay. And it was coming and going in the mist, and it seemed an entirely natural thing to compare the two, and record it. I took the source photos on a digital camera. I wanted to do something of John, draw a portrait of him, but I couldn’t, it just would have been wrong. So I did the Battleships, which were a portrait of John kind of coming and fading in and out, like the ship as the mist took it and brought it back. And the reason I did them that way, and that size, is that I wanted to replicate the size of the window I was looking out of, the view as I saw it. And by making it triple laminate, the works oscillate – it’s there, it’s not there, and when you’re near you can’t see it, and when you stand to the side you lose it. And it’s like that when the ship’s on the horizon in the mist, that kind of hot, humid mist that comes in the rainy season there and you can’t see out. And they were done in different colours - John wore that mauvy colour occasionally, and I always thought it made him look really princely, very kind of regal, and a lot of people would find absurd, because they saw him as an illiterate Cockney barman, but I felt he was a gentleman, John Edwards. He was outrageous, and he would do really naughty things, but he had a strict moral code that served him well. One of the Battleships has palm leaves on it, and I wasn’t going to use that photograph, but by the time I got to that one John had died, and I wanted there to be life in it. I’d dealt with the loss, and I just felt the need to show some hope, and that’s why the palm leaves are in it." – from the 2019–2021 biographical vitrine for the Museum of Arts and Design exhibition The Art of Light.

"In the 'Study in Grisaille' series (2002), Clarke pushed the medium, in a radical move, to the extreme: before he temporarily banished glass from his ‘stained glass’ he completely jettisoned the constructional lead-line. In both 'Study in Grisaille II' and 'Study in Grisaille III' the ship (based on Clarke’s digital photograph of a fog-bound vessel on the South Andaman Sea) dissolves into a haze, veiled in a ghostly synaesthetic calm. It hovers, motionless, in a borderless glass screen executed in triple laminated float glass, within which the layers of blue, yellow and black vitreous paint translate the dot screen – like Ben Day dots – into a kind of stained glass pointillism. Clarke originally developed this technique in response to specific requirements of the client for the soaring glass walls of Foster & Partners’ Al Faisaliah Complex, Riyadh (2000), which called for figural imagery on a huge scale." – art historian Martin Harrison in the essay Brian Clarke: Silence and Tumult.

"The warship was photographed by Clarke himself as it was about to be enveloped in gathering gloom, in a brief epiphanic period lasting only minutes; a huge presence, at once sinister and yet strangely benign, it was about to disappear. A crucial step in evolving his new approach, Clarke’s renunciation of the linear element of stained glass in favour of exploring form and colour remains an unexpected (if only temporary) strategy for this fluent draughtsman." – Martin Harrison in the opening essay to the catalogue Transillumination.