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John Clarke, Berkshires Artist

John Clarke has lived in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts since 2007.  He was born in central Massachusetts around a landscape of mills, rivers, trains and bridges, which greatly inform his work. Clarke received his degree in classical music composition from Bates College in Maine.

Clarke merges a range of mediums that include paint, pastel, gesso, pencil, photography, writing and music. Melodious and articulate, Clarke’s work draws on his background as a classical composer. His lines and symbols are directed by music as they float and interact in the spaces of his images. One of his first bodies of work was inspired by a neoclassical piece of music, Alina, by the Estonian composer Arvo Part. His Alina series exemplifies his style and use of color, line, and shape. At the time, an article in Rural Intelligence called him a “multimedia abstract master.” 

photo by Liz Hogan

Around 2002, Clarke bought a camera and started revisiting the railroad tracks and train yards he had once explored to capture some of those memories. Clarke’s photography evolved, utilizing long exposure and gestural movement blur to create images that diffuse and abstract the world around him in order to spark an unknown journey into emotional and spiritual territories. In many of his works, there is a tension between what is revealed and what is obscured. He calls this “looking through the curtain.”

Clarke’s artwork is varied in character ranging from soft and meditative to bold and vigorous, providing a symbiotic movement and rhythm. Hanging one visual language on the balance of another, his latest work combines mediums, using photographic prints or written stories as backdrops for emotional layers of line, color and symbol with acrylic, pastel, pencil and gesso to create one-of-a-kind pieces. Clarke’s most recent body of work, “Drawing on Memory” is a reinterpretation of John Clarke’s notes, journal entries, letters, sketches, and short stories from his days jumping freight trains throughout the northeast. His paintings play a game of hide and seek with words and gestural drawings, re-creating the narratives.

Often described as a “renaissance man,” Clarke is also the front man and a primary songwriter for the band The Best Times. He also has a solo album, All Beneath Our Train. An avid writer, he has written 50 short stories about his years jumping freight trains. Clarke’s work has been shown at multiple galleries and Museums. He was featured in the April 2011, August 2016, and September 2019 issues of The Artful Mind Magazine and the 2018 Autumn issue of ArtAscent Magazine (silver medal honor).

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