It’s Hard to Distinguish Between Centuries After Dark

Caleb Clark is a painter of his time. Portrait by Colby Rabon

Caleb Clark attended a high school in rural Vermont with an exceptionally strong arts program, benefitting from teachers who had studied at the acclaimed Arts Students League of New York. After graduation, he moved to Asheville, attended the now-defunct Fine Arts League of the Carolinas, and apprenticed with the founder of that school, classical realist and world-renowned fresco painter Benjamin F. Long, IV.

“I’m influenced by Renaissance and traditional art,” Clark says, “but I hope my work is accessible and not alienating because of my classical influence. I want to add elements to speak to modern life, to be a painter of my time — not trapped in the past. I love timeless paintings, where you can’t nail down the era. But I also like to paint people of this time, with contemporary elements.”

Realism purists prefer to omit such identifiers. “When doing figurative work,” explains Clark, “they’ll choose not to include a model’s tattoo or nose ring, for example.” But for Clark, those elements of current style help convey the model’s personality in a meaningful context. In his charcoal-and-pencil still life Eco, modernity is bookmarked by the juxtaposition of a lightbulb alongside the otherwise timeless-looking bleached skull of an animal. .

Before the pandemic shutdown, Clark was routinely doing portraiture and figurative work with live models. As did billions of folks when confronted by the challenges of social distancing, Clark turned to nature for solace and companionship. He feels completely at home in the woods, and that’s where he started going to paint. But in what could be the perfect metaphor for 2020, he chose to do so under the cloak of darkness.

“I’ve always been drawn to night paintings like Whistler’s ‘Nocturnes,’ which are really moody and have a great sense of lighting. I wanted to try it, and the shutdown was a good opportunity … I hike out near my home and find a spot, then go back when it starts to get dark, with a flashlight and my easel.”
While painting his Tree Nocturnes in the darkness, Clark experienced a curious creative illumination. “In landscapes, you are creating the illusion of distance. Portraits and figurative works focus on creating a sense of form and less distance. But as I was painting this series it occurred to me that there was an amalgamation of the two things that I really like to do: figurative and landscape painting. I feel there is a less traditional feeling, too.

“They are representational realist paintings, but the lighting isn’t like a candle or lantern. Some even have a fluorescence, with these funky colors playing in there. I love being outdoors, and I’m still doing them a year later, so night painting still holds my interest. I look forward to doing more of them, and larger ones.”

Caleb Clark, Asheville. For more information, visit calebclarkart.com and on Instagram: @calebclarkart. The artist is represented by Weaver Street Fine Art in Carrboro, NC, where he has a solo show opening Friday, Sept. 10 and ending Tuesday, Oct. 5. For more information, see the gallery’s Facebook page.

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