A House Full Of Art


August 07, 2005|By Glenn McNatt | Glenn McNatt,SUN ART CRITIC

There's what seems like a lifetime's worth of art in the compact rowhouse off West North Avenue in Baltimore where photographer Carl Clark and his wife, Linda Day Clark, have lived since 1986.

Clark, a former career military officer who took up photography as a profession on retiring from the Army in 1981 (after having served combat tours in Vietnam and Korea), says he's been collecting art for as long as he can remember.

"I've been collecting since I first understood there was something called art," Clark, 71, says jokingly.

"We collect images we like," he adds -- the "we" refers to himself and Linda, who is also a photographer (the couple met while they were both students at the Maryland Institute College of Art in the 1980s).

"For us, that means images that have some kind of visual, intellectual, emotional or social meaning," Clark says.

The walls of the Clarks' home are a testament both to their love of art and the people who make it. Many of the paintings, sculptures, photographs and prints that decorate their walls were created by artists who were also close friends and colleagues.

In the front room of the house, for example, sit a cabinet and a chair by the late Baltimore artist Tom Miller. Both pieces are painted in the exuberant bright colors and intricate patterns of the artist's signature "Afro-Deco" style.

Miller, who died in 2000 at age 54 after a long battle with AIDS, created whimsical artworks from discarded furniture and other found objects. His sculptures, which he painted and finished to jewel-like perfection, were eagerly sought by collectors, who often waited up to two years to acquire his works.

"Tom was my best friend," recalls Clark, who wears a tube that supplies him with oxygen because of heart problems and other ailments. "I took care of him in the hospice where he died, and I also documented all his works on slides. Tom's pieces were given to us with love."

The chair by Miller is titled Adam and Eve, a name the artist gave the work in tribute to Clark and his wife. (Clark suspects the large, painted cabinet by Miller had a similarly symbolic title, though neither he nor Linda can recall it now.)

The front room is also home to a lithographic print of a young boy by Elizabeth Catlett, ceramic artworks by Renee Towson and Lamidi Fakeye and photographs by Joseph Kohl.

Kohl, another of Clark's friends who died prematurely (of leukemia, in 2002), worked as a commercial photographer for various area publications, but devoted his personal work to documenting Baltimore's quirky counterculture of the 1980s and '90s.

After Kohl's death, Clark organized a memorial exhibition of black-and-white photography by area artists in 2002, and the next year, he mounted a well-received retrospective of Kohl's own photographs. Both exhibitions were presented at School 33 Art Center in Federal Hill.

Kohl is represented in the Clarks' collection by a brooding portrait of a young woman and by a diptych depicting the male and female personas of a transgendered individual the artist knew, one of the many people on society's margins whom Kohl befriended and photographed.

In the Clarks' dining room, there's more art on the walls and atop the fireplace mantelpiece: a cheerful lithograph by Miller titled Summer in Baltimore, Nigerian flags and fiber art, an East Indian wall piece and framed images by Baltimore-based photojournalist Christopher Hartlove and New Yorker Roy DeCarava, the legendary Harlem photographer who was a mentor to Clark in 1985.

"I first met Roy when he came to receive an honorary degree from the Maryland Institute College of Art, where I was a student," Clark recalls.

"We hit it off wonderfully from the start," Clark adds. "Later, I went up to New York and worked for him in his darkroom. At the end of the day, one of my jobs was to clean up the darkroom, and while I did that, Roy played his saxophone in the next room. It was a wonderful experience. I could have stayed there forever."

But Clark did come back, and over the last 30 years he has created hundreds of pictures that portray African-American life in Baltimore with wit, compassion and grace.

Today, he is one of the city's most respected artists, and a local treasure in his own right.

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