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Of love and other things

John Forrester Clack and his son Tobias Oliver Clack will be exhibiting ‘Marking the Spirit’ from Friday 19 August at 6PM at the Nishi Gallery until Sunday 11 September.

A few weeks ago, we went to visit John Forrester Clack at his home and studio in Gundaroo. We talked for a long time. Of his work, of love, and others things.

John’s work is self-exploratory. He draws, paints and sculpts, mainly self-portraits. Heads that draw on different emotions. In many ways it seems that John’s art is a way for him to reconcile himself within himself. “My pictures aren’t pretty pictures. They are about being deeply human as well as being deeply connected emotionally and spiritually”.

“What I’m doing as an artist is shedding skins. This is what I am today. You get it out and then you can leave that part on the floor.”

We talked in his studio, fitted with big windows for their generous natural light. John made the studio with his landlord whom he likes a lot. The door is pretty much always open to let the paint fumes out. The walls are covered in layers and layers of paint splatters, offcuts of wood lean up against the walls; tools and brushes hang from the ceiling.

“It’s grubby and oily and it stinks in here. But I feel free here.” John says.

He tells us the story of Francis Bacon and how he lived in a grotty bedsit studio in Reece Mews in London for years, painting away. And then he started selling his work for millions of pounds and so he took his bundle of cash and moved to a beautiful studio. But he found that he couldn’t paint in this nice new space… So he had to move back to the hovel.

The right space is important, John says. It helps you feel free to work things out.

“Part of making art is producing shit. You either have to change it, destroy it or start again. Sometimes it’s hard not to feel defeated.

You can work away for hours and not get anywhere, and then suddenly you experience this thing… This grace.

And then it works. I’m really grateful when it does. I think ‘that’s amazing, I can’t believe it’s there’.”

John grew up far away from his studio in Gundaroo, amongst the slag heaps of a mining valley in Wales. It sounds like it was a difficult place to grow up.

“For all the scars that childhood leaves us, it has given me a powerful engine, insight, a way to see things spiritually and emotionally.”

“My work is about embedded memory and emotion. And love. We share love. Love is really it. Art gave me a place to put it.”

It’s very fitting, given the nature of John’s work, this exploration of memory and love, that he will be exhibiting alongside his son Tobias.

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