By: Julianna Perkins
“It chose me - the art chose me.”
As a child, June Clark never considered the arts as a profession she might pursue. As a woman, now age 76, the Toronto-based visual artist reflects on a lifetime spent translating the world from thoughts and ideas to complex creative works.
Rusted metal, old clothing, bits of paper and torn images; Clark’s art is made from the scraps of what she describes as our “disposable society.” She is not against scrounging the sides of a road for the materials with which her newest creation is to be made, because her work reflects the state, both socially and politically, of the world that surrounds her. Though her art may be made from the recycled detritus of a consumerist society, her ideas are always new, driven by an exploration of passions.
Clark is a true visual artist in the sense that she is not to be limited. From collages to prints to installations, she admits that her mediums are the results of attempting to translate ideas into reality.
“Often,” she says, “I am inspired to say something and then I try and figure out the best way to say it.”
But for someone who has carved a lifetime of space in the Canadian art world, the beginnings of Clark’s career took place not too long ago. She started doing street photography around the age of 30 and began officially connecting with the art world after moving to Toronto from her birthplace of Harlem, N.Y., in 1969. She now works from her home and studio in Scarborough.
Clark says she left Harlem during political turbulence in the 1960s, and had not returned to live there for 28 years when the Studio Museum in Harlem invited her to complete a one-year residency in 1996. That’s when she created the Harlem Quilt.
“When I went back, I realized that nothing had changed, and everything had changed,” says Clark. The Quilt is an installation composed of hundreds of images superimposed upon scraps of fabric and clothing from a local Harlem Salvation Army thrift store and intertwined with lights. It was her way of coming to terms with coming home.
“I walked around Harlem for days and weeks with my camera at hip level and just snapped images,” she says. “I wanted to just discover what was going on.”
In Clark’s opinion, art requires depth in order to remain relevant, and a commitment to making art is lifelong. The process of capturing moments and experiences of the world should not be fleeting and spur of the moment, but should translate indefinitely.
“I believe one would hope that when you make something, it doesn’t get old. And if it does get old, than it probably should be destroyed,” says Clark.
Or, alternatively, it should be made of destruction. Such is the nature of Dirge, a 2004 work of Clark’s. The piece is made of oxidized metal on canvas, a creative way of saying “old, rusty mufflers.” Clark herself picked the pieces up off the side of the road, and formed them into a decaying American flag.
Dirge - which is a song or hymn of grief or lamentation and is usually intended to accompany funeral or memorial rites - was a lamenting response to current events in the U.S. at the time, says Clark.
Clark’s art is for everyone, from every background and walk of life, to approach with their own point of view. Her artmaking is a process fueled by her experiences and opportunities, yet is accessible to all and open for interpretation.
“Some days are good and some days are bad. Some days are very creative, and some days one sits and thinks about being creative,” says Clark.
Her artistic expression is a life process, and one that she relishes day in and day out.
This piece was edited by Jacklyn Gilmor.