A native of New Orleans, Edward Clark grew up in Chicago, attending the School of the Art Institute of Chicago on a GI Bill scholarship, which also supported study in Paris in the early 1950s. As with so many of his expatriate peers, Paris played a crucial role in the transformation of Clark’s work. In addition to being a refuge from the general discrimination Clark experienced in the United States, the city also provided a respite from the expectation that African American artists paint in a realist mode. Indeed in Paris Clark turned emphatically toward abstraction: “It struck me that if I paint a person—no matter how I do it—it is a lie. The truth is in the physical brushstroke and the subject of the painting is the paint itself.”
Throughout the 1950s, Clark’s brushstrokes grew bolder and looser, conceived by the artist as bearers of “energy and speed.” The early abstract canvas Untitled (1953) establishes a striking verticality, almost human in its scale. Meanwhile Silver Screen—in keeping with its title—expands horizontally, as if pushed outward by the artist’s vivid, fanlike applications of color. Following five years in Paris, Clark moved to New York City, where in late 1957 he exhibited a work often acknowledged as the first shaped painting. Few of these paintings survive, but Untitled (1957) is an important example of Clark’s innovation: collaged elements break the traditional rectangular limits of the canvas, carrying the dynamism of his brushstrokes into the spaces beyond.
These pioneering paintings come together in celebration of Clark on the occasion of his receiving the Art Institute’s Legends and Legacy Award, an honor recognizing living African American artists who have achieved national acclaim with careers spanning over 50 years.