Thursday, November 18, 2010

Ed Clark, "Broom-Pusher" Artist

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Ed Clark, Artist
© Discover Paris!

The Montparnasse district of Paris is renowned for an artistic tradition and Bohemian lifestyle that dates from the early 1900s. That tradition was still alive when more than 200 African-American soldiers took advantage of the educational benefits of the GI bill after World War II and moved to Paris to study. Among them was Ed Clark, one of the most successful African-American artists to live and study in Montparnasse.

Ed Clark Self-Portrait
1949-1951 Watercolor on board
Collection of the artist

Born in New Orleans, Louisiana, Clark moved with his family to Chicago after the Great Depression and finished his primary education there. He learned at a young age that he was gifted with artistic talent. After fulfilling his military service, he enrolled at the Art Institute of Chicago, and then moved to Paris to study under the GI Bill. He arrived in 1952, determined to become a great artist. Greatness, he says, is something to which he has always aspired.

Clark is one of the few living artists of the post-World War II African-American expatriate era. Though he currently resides in New York City, he returns to Paris almost every year to paint. He is fond of the studios that are made available to artists at the Cité Internationale des Arts on quai de l’Hôtel de Ville, and has stayed there twenty-eight times since moving stateside in 1956. At the Cité, he is free to cover the floor with thick plastic, place his monumental canvases on the floor, and paint with push brooms using the unique technique that he developed in 1963.

Ed Clark at Cité Internationale des Arts
© Discover Paris!

At eighty-four, Clark is as vigorous and quick-witted as a person half his age. He is a veritable font of information about the Paris of the 1950s and 60s, and has numerous stories to tell. One particularly interesting tale concerns his studio at 22, rue Delambre. He rented an apartment on the top floor of a dilapidated building that had no windows – a great handicap for an artist! His friend and fellow expatriate Richard Gibson described the studio as a “chicken coop.” One day, one of the residents of the building climbed onto the roof, cut a large rectangular hole in it, and covered it with plastic! Clark immediately had all the light he needed, and was subsequently the envy of his artist colleagues.

Paris daylight has a special luminosity that Clark particularly appreciates. He says there is a special blue in the atmosphere of Paris that he does not see elsewhere, and that the quality of light influences his selection of colors when he paints here. This can be perceived when one looks at a collection of his works.

Clark’s first encounter with “different” colors occurred when he took his first transatlantic voyage to France. On board the S.S. Liberté, he noted a special shade of blue in the overalls that the stevedores wore. He said that the color was reminiscent of the powdery blues that Monet used in his paintings.

Clark uses these shades of blue when he paints in Paris, but not elsewhere. He first noted that his “colors changed” when painting in Paris during his three-year stay here from 1966-1969. He says that he unconsciously changes color schemes when he paints in different geographical locations – he observed this effect when he stayed in Greece, Nigeria, Brazil, and other countries.


Ed Clark is participating in an exposition entitled African American Abstract Masters at the Opalka Gallery on the Sage College campus in Albany, NY through December 12, 2010.  To learn more about him and to see samples of his work, visit


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Philippe F. Nault said...

I would love to reconnect with Mr. Ed Clark. Would anyone give me an address, email or else so I can reach him?
Thank you very much in advance
Philippe F. Nault

About Beauford Delaney said...

Hello Philippe,
I don't have a current e-mail address for Ed. You should try reaching him through his Web site: