Work

'Don't Forget the Lamb' lead polyptychs

2008

"The works in the series 'Don’t Forget the Lamb' are distinguished by the predominance of the lead ground and the absence of translucent glass. Were they not occasionally reminiscent of stained glass work, one would perhaps approach them as pictures or sculptures that were created from a completely different perspective. The death of his mother plunged Clarke into a deep reflection on the transience of life and the nature of memory. From this arose a series of works that are without comparison in contemporary stained glass." – Vitromusee Romont director Stefan Trümpler in Life and Death.

These three monumental polyptychs, The Office for the Dead, Shopping List, and Don't Forget the Lamb, which has collaged into it a work in oil on canvas, painted by Clarke when he was 25 in his then-signature Constructivist language, form the core of the series of 'leadworks', which includes a series of 'studies' or portraits of skulls in lead, among other works.

"The two elements of lead, a material that has been associated with death since time immemorial, and glass, a material through which the light shines out, assume a particular meaning in connection with the theme of memento mori; this significance is further increased when viewed in the context of stained glass. From the earliest of times, the leads in a stained glass panel have had a dual function: as a supporting structure for the glass pieces and as a conspicuous, graphic network of dark lines. However, with few exceptions, the lead network is generally subordinate to the composition of the light, forming the technical framework for it – its skeleton. Clarke completely upturns the usual values of glass to lead, and reverses the importance of these materials, and of their relative lightness to darkness. Grief caused light as well as colour to drain from the artist’s life, and transience emerges as a recurrent theme in his work. Outlines of glowing colour still accompany the skulls; even the inscriptions, which would traditionally stand out on pale glass and be clearly legible, are here rendered as faintly gleaming letters on a darkly shimmering lead ground.

The import of a few powerful signs runs through the whole of Clarke’s work like a connecting thread. In his early works, it was the cross – significantly to be found, in the form of an oil painting, in Don't Forget the Lamb, representing remembrance, the memory of the past in the present, and as such a counterpart to his mother’s shopping reminder. There is also a symbolic character to the fleur-de-lys on the flag: Clarke is referring to the Sainte Chapelle in Paris, where the motif from the coat of arms of the kings of France is omnipresent in the backgrounds and borders of the stained glass. The magnificent glazing of the Sainte Chapelle stands as the shining example of medieval stained glass, and Clarke’s usage of the allusion can be understood as an acknowledgement of the high esteem in which this art form with which he identifies was once held. It is also surely not just a coincidence that the flag which carries the fleur-de-lys is the same as one belonging to a band of bold buccaneers in an oil painting by the English artist Frank Brangwyn (1867 – 1956); the well-known picture by the extremely versatile Brangwyn, who also designed for stained glass, hangs in Clarke’s studio. The lily then is the sublime symbol of an epoch and its most precious and effective visual medium, a sign of immortality in a very special sense." – Stefan Trümpler

"Clarke turns the art of stained glass on its head. Skulls are picked out in scribbles of molten lead in a sort of macabre graffiti on sheets of forbidding matt-black lead. When he does introduce a splash of glass, it serves to accentuate the darkness. ‘Don’t Forget the Lamb’, a moving tribute to his ailing mother, gives the series its title: an uncompromising expanse of lead, with a skeleton, an uneven patch of colour depicting fleur-de-lys, and a note from his mother, like a Post-it on a fridge door: 'Don’t forget the lamb'." – Financial Times, 2018.