May the light and the colour be!
Brian Clarke is the rock star of stained glass. His creations, where a punk aesthetic mixes with humanistic thought, find themselves enshrined in buildings all over the world. The Abbey of the Fille Dieu, in Romontis bathed in the light that runs through his work. A spectacular exhibition is dedicated to him in London. - Jo Phillips, London.
Brian Clarke is a dangerous man. Well, ok, not really dangerous but he has a cheeky glow in his eyes. And why not ... He is the most famous stained glass artist in the world, and especially the most rock and roll. He has a unique way of working with this medium that he has radically reinvented.
An aesthetics from punk directs his work, although nuanced by some deep and soft notes. He uses sexy, lively colours, and perhaps it would be more accurate to say that he is more of a new romantic. New Romantic, was a trend that closely followed the punk movement, which was born in London art schools and also made its way to the clubs that saw the birth of Boy Georges, amongst others. Personalities who grew up with punk, but took a new path forward, the hard edge angry thrill of punk against a softer, more sensual side. So where punks are all skulls, New romantics would add the flowers! If the punks like the skulls, the New Romantics never forget to put a flower.
This feels so evident in the work of this artist, who is currently having a spectacular exhibition at the Sainsbury Centre in .">Norwich. which just happens to be celebrating its 40th year anniversary at the moment. The building itself is perfect for hosting this exhibition for many reasons. Designed by the architectSir Norman Fosterit is a magnificent example of an experimental structure; an architecture made of prefabricated modules, embedded around a steel frame. Huge glass panels open the building at each end, and let cascades of light flow throughout the structure. An ideal place fora painter of light. After all, the exhibition is called Brian Clarke; The art of light.
So what of the work? Thirty huge stained glass windows are distributed from the mezzanine to the end of the building. And among some historical pieces, alongside some that belong to historical works, form the Sainsbury collections. Sainsbury.
The pieces depict just about everything from anger to love, loss and money; from flowers, taut, anguished outlines of faces to stock exchange numbers listed in glass like tense, anxious faces, to the numbers of the stock markets. Apart from these themes, we also discover stained glass windows representing images made with lead. In some creations, Brian Clarke completely eliminated the lead, while to make others, he only used this material. The fact of having succeeded in creating lead-free stained glass windows magnifies his work, as does the light; the luminous flux passing through the glass panels reinforces the power of the colors of which they are composed. For the teacher For Paul Greenhalgh, director of the center, this work "explores through a pure emotion, all that means to be a human, from the joy, to the loss and the pain".
The artist was born in Oldham and was raised in a spiritual environment. He does not necessarily want to talk about religion when he talks about his work. When one thinks of stained glass, one thinks irrevocably of church, but it is not there that it draws its inspiration. On the other hand, he evokes the work of Marc Chagall (of which we can discover the stained glasses in the cathedral of Rheims, ed), of Sir Basil Spence or even John Piper.
When he was still a young artist of 21, Brian Clarke left for a long journey in Europe and the United States, looking for modern buildings and stained glass, trying to get in touch with the different architects and artists who were the originators of these works. There was no other way, at the time, to learn this type of work. Brian Clarke talks of his bus journeys to small towns in search of contemporary stained glass. What interested him was avant-garde artists and architects. At the time, there was no reference book on this subject, and Instagram did not exist. Architecture is at the center of his universe. In his eyes, this exhibition has "a wonderful circularity," he says, recalling the drawing of the building that his great friend Norman Foster had drawn on a napkin.
Brian Clarke has very often collaborated with Zaha Hadid, Renzo Piano and of course Sir Norman Foster. His work is extensive and includes the stained glass windows of Pfizer building in New York, from the Holocaust Memorial to Darmstadt, Victoria Quarter à Leeds, Linkoping Cathedral in Sweden, THE 'Abbaye de la Fille Dieu, in Romont, Switzerland, or the group lobby Apax at Jermyn Street, in London. He even worked for the pope!
Most of his work concerns his stained glass windows, but sometimes he is asked for works made with other mediums: painted canvases, sculpture, mosaic or tapestry.
To quote Brian Clarke again, the "wonderful circularity" of which he speaks, is not limited to the curl that time does by leading him to exhibit in a building he knew before he was erected. There is a real familiarity of spirit between his work, of a visceral modernity, and this building, which belongs to the same movement of thought. Punk? New Romantic? It does not matter ... This work needs no label. He is simply fabulous.
Brian Clarke, The Art of Light, Sainsbury Center, London, exhibition until October 14.
Jo Phillips is the director of the online magazine Cent. www.centmagazine.co.uk