Painter Ed Clark, 93, a Pioneering Figure in Post-War Abstraction, Has Died

Artist Ed Clark (1926-2019)


A SINGULAR FIGURE in post-war Abstraction, Ed Clark (1926-2019) died Oct. 18 in Detroit. He was 93. Clark is recognized for his innovation, experimentation, and seductive use of color. Over seven decades, he built a practice influenced by his education in Chicago and Paris, exposure to European modernists, and a desire to distinguish himself from his peers. For most of his career, he was supported by a network of African American collectors and black-owned galleries. In the past decade, his pioneering contributions have been recognized more widely.

“No matter what I do,” Ed Clark told the New York Times in 2014, “there’s not a day that I’m not an artist.”

Hauser & Wirth announced Clark’s passing. A spokesperson for the gallery confirmed his death to Culture Type on Friday. The artist had recently joined the gallery in August of this year. In announcing its worldwide representation of Clark, the gallery referenced his “remarkable originality, extending the language of American abstraction.” Clark’s first exhibition with Hauser & Wirth is currently on view in New York City through Oct. 26. The solo show focuses on paintings made between 2000 and 2013.

Over a seven-decade, Ed Clark made work recognized for its “remarkable originality, extending the language of American abstraction.”

Clark attended the Art Institute of Chicago and studied at L’Academie de la Grande Chaumiere in Paris. His time in Paris was influenced by artists Nicolas de Staël, Pierre Soulages, and Jean-Paul Riopelle and also shaped by connections with his African American peers—expatriate artists and writers Beauford Delaney, Barbara Chase-Riboud, Richard Wright, and James Baldwin.

Reflecting on his work, Clark said: “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.”

It was in Paris that Clark turned to abstraction and embarked upon a career defined by his development of new methods and inventive approaches. Seeking a way to move paint with more momentum and across a wider area than possible with an ordinary paint brush, he began to use a push broom. The tool enabled Clark to paint with broad strokes. The grand gestures that resulted were full of energy, movement, and drama.

He was living in New York when he decided he wanted to work beyond traditional rectangular canvases and began experimenting with new shapes. Clark is credited as the first American artist to work with shaped canvases in the late 1950s and he introduced his first oval-shaped canvas in the late 1960s.

As his official biography notes, this was a dynamic, exploratory period for the artist:

    Clark also charted an important course through the 1950s and 1960s as a co-founder of the Brata Gallery.
    Along with his compatriots Al Held, Yayoi Kusama, and Ron Bladen, Clark founded the gallery in an attempt
    to change the way contemporary art was made and exhibited. Following nine years in New York City, Clark
    traveled extensively around the world. Aware of the difference that colors can take on in varying locations and circumstances of light and landscape, he journeyed in the hopes of expanding his palette and finding new shades and effects to capture in paint. The discovery of unfamiliar hues expanded Clark’s artistic vocabulary immensely, with results becoming clear in the mood, energy, and volumes of his work over time.


ED CLARK, “Winter Bitch,” 1959 (acrylic on canvas, 77 × 77 inches / 195.6 × 195.6 cm). | Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase with funds from the Painting and Sculpture Committee and partial gift of the artist


BORN IN NEW ORLEANS, Clark was raised in Chicago. He served in the U.S. Air Force during World War II. He studied in Chicago and Paris and after living and working in the French capital, he relocated to New York in 1957, residing in the city for a decade. Then, beginning in the late 1960s, he spent most of his career splitting his time between New York and Paris. A few years ago, he settled in Detroit. Clark is survived by daughter Melanca Clark, son-in-law Moddie Turay, and two grandchildren, also of Detroit.

The Studio Museum in Harlem presented “Ed Clark: A Complex Identity” (1980), the artist’s first museum retrospective. The Pensacola Museum of Art in Florida organized “Ed Clark: For the Sake of the Search,” a retrospective of the artist in 2007-08. Throughout his career, Clark has shown his work at George R. N’Namdi’s galleries. In 2011, the N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art in Detroit, presented “Ed Clark, The Search: A Sixty Year Retrospective.”

In 2013, the Art Institute of Chicago presented Clark with its Legends and Legacy Award, which pays tribute to African American artists whose longstanding careers have influenced generations and garnered national recognition.

Tilton Gallery in New York mounted exhibitions in 2014 and 2016. Last year, Mnuchin Gallery presented “Ed Clark: A Survey.” Writing about the Mnuchin exhibition for Hyperallergic, John Yau opened his review with this statement: “I don’t think that I can begin to enumerate all the different ways that Ed Clark is important to the history of postwar American painting.”

“I don’t think that I can begin to enumerate all the different ways that Ed Clark is important to the history of postwar American painting.”
— John Yau

His work is represented in major museum collections, including the Museum of Modern Art and the Art Institute of Chicago. Earlier this year, the Whitney Museum of American Art added “Winter Bitch” to its collection. The 1959 painting is on view in “The Whitney’s Collection: Selections From 1900 to 1965,” hanging alongside works by Willem de Kooning, Norman Lewis, Franz Kline, Joan Mitchell, and Jackson Pollock, in a gallery dedicated to Abstract Expressionism.

Clark’s work is also on view in “Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power,” the landmark international traveling show opening Nov. 9, at the deYoung Museum in San Francisco, and “Generations: A History of Black Abstract Art,” a presentation of the Joyner/Giuffrida Collection at the Baltimore Museum of Art.

At Hauser & Wirth, Clark is in the company of a multigenerational slate of African American artists working in abstraction—Mark Bradford and the late Jack Whitten (1939-2018), whom he first met in 1971, as well as Glenn Ligon, Rashid Johnson, and Lorna Simpson.

Whitten interviewed Clark for BOMB magazine‘s oral history project in 2014. The wide-ranging conversation yielded little about his painting, but probed deeply his background and experiences. When Whitten asked Clark about his dealings with commercial galleries, he said, “I couldn’t get into a commercial gallery where a white person was running it.” Clark added: “No white dealer ever took me.”

A painting by Clark graced the cover of the Spring/Summer 2019 issue of Luncheon, a London-based culture magazine. Inside Ligon wrote about the artist’s life and work. “It occurs to me that it is not hard to make a good painting every once in a while—but try making great paintings for almost seven decades as Clark has done,” Ligon wrote. “…despite all the challenges he faced throughout his career, Clark has woken up each morning, gone to the studio and got on with it.” CT


TOP IMAGE: Portrait of Ed Clark. | Photo by Chester Higgins Jr. / The New York Times / Redux


READ MORE Ed Clark was interviewed by Jack Whitten for BOMB magazine’s oral history project in 2014.

FIND MORE Ed Clark’s papers were donated to the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art in 2018


“Ed Clark: A Survey” was published recently to accompany a career-spanning exhibition at Mnuchin Gallery in New York. The fully illustrated volume includes an essay by Antwaun Sargent. “Ed Clark: Big Bang” documents the artist’s Tilton Gallery exhibition curated by David Hammons, while “Le Mouvement: The Retrospective Ed Clark” documents a 2013 exhibition at N’Namdi Contemporary in Miami. Ed Clark’s work is also featured in other volumes, including “1971: A Year in the Life of Color” by Darby English, and the catalog for “Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power.”


Installation view of “Ed Clark Paintings: 2000–2013,” Hauser & Wirth New York, 22nd Street, 2019. | © Ed Clark, Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth, Photo by Dan Bradica


Installation view of “Ed Clark Paintings: 2000–2013,” Hauser & Wirth New York, 22nd Street, 2019. | © Ed Clark, Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth, Photo by Dan Bradica


ED CLARK, “Untitled,” 2005 (acrylic on canvas, 161.3 x 205.7 x 1.9 cm / 63 1/2 x 81 x 3/4 inches). | © Ed Clark, Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth, Photo by Thomas Barratt