Over the course of the last several decades, Ed Clark has continually extended the language of American abstraction through his experimentations with the material properties of paint and the physicality of color: the hallmarks of his innovative oeuvre. Painted in 1998, Untitled (Paris Series) is an arresting example of Clark’s mature style and practice, specifically his use of the push broom to create broad strokes of ebullient color. This work exemplifies the ways in which Clark has masterfully established his own unique form of expressionism by literally sweeping his medium into a graceful language of its own, reclaiming his place as an important addition to the group of abstract artists working in the postwar era.
The present work refers to the formative importance of Paris in the artist’s oeuvre and was most likely painted during a later visit to the city. Born in New Orleans and raised in Chicago, Clark went on to study at the Art Institute of Chicago and L’Academie de la Grande Chaumiere in Paris in 1952, where he studied under Ossip Zadkine. It was in Paris where Clark was exposed to movements and artists such as the CoBRA group, Art Informel, and the work of Nicolas de Stael for the first time; all of which proved to be important and lasting influences on the artist’s work to come. After the Academy, Clark continued to live and work in Paris alongside other ex-patriot artists and creative figures including Sam Francis, Joan Mitchell, Beauford Delaney, Barbara Chase-Riboud and James Baldwin, and it was during this time that Clark began to explore the expressive propensities of abstraction: “I began to believe, from my conversations with other artists, that the real truth is in the stroke. For me, it is large, bold strokes that do not refer distinctly to seen nature. The paint is the subject. The motions of the strokes give the work life.” (E. Clark and Q. Troupe, “For the Sake of the Search: An Interview with Ed Clark by Quincy Troupe,” in For the Sake of the Search, Belleville Lake, 1997, p. 17).
In 1956, while still in Paris, Clark would begin painting in his now-signature style. Like several of his Abstract Expressionist forbearers, Clark placed the canvas flat on the floor. Clark began experimenting with larger canvases and was unable to find paintbrushes big enough to accommodate this new scale. The push broom became the key to solving this problem. In what Clark refers to as “the big sweep,” he began to apply paint with a broom – the swoop of his broom creating broad strokes of color to the scale he desired. As demonstrated in the present work, the broom allowed Clark to replicate the momentum of a brushstroke on a larger scale. The push of the broom thus becomes a central and contingent component of Clark’s magnum opus: the physical act of moving the paint and the inherent materiality of the paint itself become Clark’s subject matter. Clark would continue experimenting with such methods throughout his career – trading in his traditional broom for short-handled push brooms, rollers, rags, and at times, his own hands, to apply paint on the canvas.
Coming of age in an era where African American artists were expected by many to create figurative work explicitly addressing racial subject matter, Clark insisted on pursuing the development of a new formal language that celebrated the cultivation and expression of the individual voice and the power of non-objective art to transcend cultural and political boundaries: “Art is not subject to political games; its importance elevates it above any racial differences. Any man of talent, of noble spirit, can make it” (E. Clark, quoted in “Un musée pour Harlem,” Chroniques de L’Art Vivant, November 1968, p. 15).
Together with his counterparts in Paris and New York, Clark’s innovations with paint application and his creative use of the canvas support continuously expanded the possibilities for the future of abstract painting. While the "all-over" chromatics of Untitled (Paris Series) might seem to echo the bravura brushwork of Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline, for example, its brooding luminosity of hues and the resplendent variety of texture, depth, and color gives the work a unique energy so true to Clark’s oeuvre.