Click on photos to enlarge.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Alson Clark

San Juan Capistrano, Mission cloisters, 1921, Alson Clark.
Today we tend to think in terms of an International Art World in which a few, longstanding, urban centers are dominated by a few longstanding art presences. New York City, Paris, London, Venice, and, arbitrarily, two or three more, tend to rule. They set trends, generate controversy, make headlines, foster careers, spark outrage, attract creative genius, and eye-popping lines of credit at a Sotheby's and Christie's. There's really not all that much new in all of this, only a shifting in focus. Before the 20th-century the so-called "international art world," being smaller, was much more sharply focused, primarily on Paris, London, and Amsterdam. Simply put, that's where the money was, and artists tend to congregate anywhere there's a vibrant art market. Of course, after WW II, all three of these urban centers (not to mention much of the rest of Europe) were in shambles. That left only New York City and later (to a lesser degree), Los Angeles.

Mission San Gabriel, Alson Clark, one of his favorite subjects.
In effect, the war turned the international art market upside-down. Whereas, around the turn of the century, the U.S. had long been seen by Europeans as something of a "stick-in-the-mud," backwater, art market; from the 1930s on, a flood of European artists and creative energy hit New York like a tsunami. Art that had been seen as an all-but-obscene outrage at New York's 1913 Armory Show, a generation later was suddenly winning cutting edge acceptance in chic SoHo galleries. There was no better example of this early 20th-century American reluctance to embrace Modern Art than in the case of French Impressionism. What Claude Monet and others painted in the 1860s took some thirty or forty years to gain wide economic acceptance in the U.S. where wealthy collectors were still enamored with Renaissance and Baroque art.

The Artist's Cottage, Alson Clark

Then Americans fell in love with Impressionism around 1900; about the time it was falling out of fashion in Paris. By that time, Monet was seen by American painters summering at Giverny as something of a demigod. Impressionism hit New York and the wealthy Northeast first, as seen in the work of Theodore Robinson, Childe Hassam, William Merritt Chase, Edmund Charles Tarbell and Frank Weston Benson. However, New York is a notoriously fickle art world constantly yearning for the "next big thing." Impressionism moved westward, under the guise of William Wendt, Granville Redmond, Arthur Cane, Joseph Kleitsch, Armin Hansen, Jean Mannheim, John Marshall Gamble, Franz Bischoff, William Ritschel, Hanson Puthuff, Marion Wachtel, Jack Wilkinson Smith, and Guy Rose (to name way too many). However, one might argue that the most outstanding of them all, was an artist friend of Guy Rose named Alson Clark.
Notice the strange vehicle (upper-right) turned into an easel.
Alson Skinner Clark was born in Chicago; his father a prosperous commodities trader who provided his family an affluent lifestyle. Young Alson displayed art talent at an early age. He started taking evening classes at the Art Institute of Chicago at the age of eleven. The Clark family went on a world-wide tour lasting two full years, which also exposed the boy to European art and paintings. Clark moved on to the Art Students League of New York, the Académie Julian in Paris and the atelier of William Merritt Chase. He spent much of his early career working in Paris, France. During WW I Clark served in the U.S. Army as an aerial photographer. In 1920 Clark and his wife relocated to Pasadena, California. There he taught fine art at Occidental College.

Canal construction--a nearly unprecedented close
look at the mightiest engineering feat of the 20th-century. 
In the spring of 1913 the building of the Panama Canal inspired the Clarks to go to the Canal Zone. There, construction was nearing completion. Alson Clark had "connections" and he knew how to use them. As a result, he gained near total access to the construction site, labor trains, and workers. He was able to create numerous paintings in the brutal heat as he tried to capture on canvas the final construction phase of the canal and its railroad (above). By June of that year he had many paintings completed. Clark contacted John Trask, who was the Director of the Fine Arts section of the forthcoming Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco. The director was so impressed he provided Clark room for a solo exhibition of eighteen paintings. This put Clark in the ranks of only a very few other American artists: Frank Duveneck, James McNeill Whistler, William Merritt Chase, Childe Hassam, and John Singer Sargent.

Rooftops, Paris, Alson Clark, painted during one of the
artist's many trips to the continent.
In addition to landscape paintings, Alson Clark painted murals for the Carthay Circle Theatre in Los Angeles, and the fire curtain of the Pasadena Playhouse, depicting a Spanish galleon in full sail. A group of murals completed in 1929 can still be seen at the former 1st Trust & Savings Bank in Pasadena. The murals consist of four panels standing approximately ten feet in height, each depicting a major southern California industry: oil drilling, citrus farming, the movies, and shipping. Unfortunately, try as I did, I could not locate images for these or any of Clark's mural works, all of which have long since been moved or destroyed.

Medora with Mirror, Alson Clark


No comments:

Post a Comment