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OCTOBER 2004
DAVID IVAN CLARK: NO PLACE at Hang Art Annex 567 Sutter St., San Francisco. Oct 7 - 31

By Thomas Cunniff

David Ivan Clark grew up in the western Canadian province of Saskatchewan near towns with names like Medicine Hat, Buffalo, and Moose Jaw that bespeak an era when a sense of place was far less affected by human centrism in favor of the numinous, the animist, and the magical. To those familiar with his work, which straddles a border between landscape and abstraction, wilderness and industrial decay, the title of his currrent one man show at Hang Gallery, No Place, will come as little surprise. Clark has spoken about the sense of longing in these paintings, for the prairie of his youth from the long perspective of memory and, one might presume, for the need of being fully present in the illusion of painting itself, the null part or nowhere that the artist strives to manifest in the midst of the distracting bewilderment of the world. His work has a distinctly North American sensibility in its minimalist approach on the one hand that would seem to be all about the pleasure of lush surfaces and the atmospheric chiaroscuro of his brushwork; on the other it is a hybrid of constructs that seek to challenge the neo romantic ideal of landscape since the industrial revolution.

Employing the medium of oil on metal, Clark often presents a seemingly straightforward depiction suffused with a luminosity reminiscent of Arthur Pinkham Ryder, as in Landscape 25/04, in which the sky is the dominant element as if seen at dawn or dusk, in stark contrast to a dark foreground. Like Ryder, he depicts a visual idealization of place which has as its sensual components a saturated depth of field born out of a seamless handling of paint and a hidden source of light that contrive an aura of mystery and expansiveness. In Landscape 21/04 the sheer scale of the green sky dominates a shadowed, Saharan terrain; the effect is both of existential solitude and an enveloping warmth. There are many paintings in the show that appear as startling visions one had woken to from the seat of a train or jet and beheld with accumulating delight for as long as it took for them to fade from sight.

Clark sometimes frames his compositions with a border of nailheads as if they were not only landscapes but the riveted and lacquered fuselages of the engines that originally intruded on them and ironically set the stage for the notion of landscape as mythic artifact in the first place. Fastened as they are in a workmanlike manner to wooden panels, these paintings remind us that there barely exists that sense of natural boundlessness that the first explorers of the New World recorded with such awe. But they are also a nod to the processes of painting in which the artist probes the potential for beauty in his materials, while engaging the viewer in a kind of conundrum of one dimensionality as opposed to great distance and space, never wholly settling on the illusion of depiction.

More than ever before, Clark in this show blurs these distinctions as if the traditional elements of landscape were not merely framed by, but were being viewed through a literal scrim of mechanization which had left a corrosive imprint on the image, the result of abrading his surfaces to reveal varying layers of pigment and imperfection to intriguing effect. Landscape 31/04 appears at first glance to be a plain under a darkly brooding sky. On closer inspection there are vertical brown lines which might be read as either distant veils of rain or the striations of rust emerging from the underlying metal. In Landscape 34/04 one is confronted by rust runes imprinted on what clearly passes as sky in the minds eye, creating the strange illusion of a sign that has been left exposed to the very elements it depicts. The conceit is carried a step further in Landscape 37/04, a riveted triptych where depiction is given almost wholly over to what might be interpreted as a conflagrating rain of fire.

A painter of singular intent, David Ivan Clark's complex meditations have sounded the changes of that no place that is the province of a restless and fruitful imagining. We are grateful to have taken the journey with him.

Thomas Cunniff is a writer who lives in San Francisco.

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