Brian Clarke is dangerous; well ok not dangerous, but he does have a cheeky glint in his eye. And why not? He is the foremost stained glass artist in the world living today and not only that, he has got to be the only rock and roll artist alive working in this unique and extreme of mediums, one which he has radically re-birthed.
A punk aesthetic rules his work, yet is offset with deep soft notes, rich and alive with sexy colour so maybe it’s fair to say he is more New Romantic – the period that came after punk which grew like punk from the London arts universities all the way to London club land that birthed the likes of Boy George…people 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!
Detail from Chill Out Brian Clarke: The Art of Light at the Sainsbury Centre, supported and organised in association with HENI.
Photo © Chris Gascoigne
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 the perfect location for this show for many reasons. Originally built, of course, by Sir Norman Foster, it is a wonderful example of an experimental structure; a prefabricated modular building encased around a steel framework. Huge glass panels open the building at each end, which means light cascades through the building, and hence it being the ideal exhibition space for a light artist. After all, is not an artist working in stained glass an artist of light? The exhibition is called Brian Clarke; The art of light.
And so to the work; 30 large stained glass screens are dotted through the building from the upstairs mezzanine to the front end of the building, and also amongst other pieces of historical works, form the Sainsbury collections.
Detail from Seville Brian Clarke: The Art of Light at the Sainsbury Centre, supported and organised in association with HENI
Photo © Matthias Kirchberger
The pieces depict everything from anger to love, loss and money; from flowers, taut, anguished outlines of faces to stock exchange numbers listed. Alongside the glass panels are also images made purely of lines of lead. He eliminated the need to use lead in glass work yet also created works that are only lead. This achievement of losing the lead in the stain glasses magnificently enchases his glass work, as does the light; the all-important light that streams through windows to accelerate the power of the rich colours and tones that make up the glass screens.
Professor Paul Greenhalgh, the director of the centre, talks of the work which “Explores through raw emotion what it is to be human from joy to loss and grief”.
Detail from Grief Brian Clarke: The Art of Light at theSainsbury Centre, supported and organised in association with HENI.
Photo ©Matthias Kirchberger
Born in Oldham and growing up in what he explained was a spiritualist upbringing, religion is not something he necessarily wants to discuss when talking of his work. Understandably so, as for many, the reference of stained glass in churches is so strong, but it’s not his place of inspiration. He talks of such artists such as Marc Chagall Sir Basil Spence and John Piper.
As a young artist of 21, he travelled extensively across Europe and USA looking for modern buildings with stained glass trying to connect with the architects and the artists. There was no other way at this point to be able to study this type of work, and Clarke talks of travelling by bus to tiny towns seeking out works. He was looking for avant-garde artists and architects of the time and medium – as there were no reference book to read, let alone Instagram feeds to absorb at this point in time.
Architecture centres so much in his world. He talks of holding this exhibition at the Sainsbury centre as having a” wonderful circularity” as he remembers the building as a sketch on napkin from his great friend Sir Norman Foster.
Much of his work has been collaborating with such luminaries as Zaha Hadid Renzo Piano and of course Sir Norman Foster. His work is extensive and includes the stained glass for the Pfizer building in New York, the Holocaust memorial in Darmstadt, the Victoria Quarter in Leeds, the Linkoping Cathedral in Sweden and even the lobby of the Apax group in Jermyn Street in London as well as work for the POPE!
He has had many a private commission for his glass work but also for other mediums he works in, such as painted canvases, sculpture, mosaics and tapestry.
So to quote Brian again, the ” wonderful circularity” of this exhibition is not just his work in a building he saw before it was built, but the very fact that the visceral modernity of his take on this medium is in a building which encompasses so much of the same spirit; Punk? New Romantic? Who cares..as long as its fabulous..and well, this exhibition in this building is exactly that!
Image .Cent magazine
The Art of Light at the
Sainsbury Centre, supported and
anised in association with HENI.