Robert Clarke: Kingdom at Julian Hartnoll Gallery
Robert Clarke is a St Martin’s graduate and lover of all things canine. Originally afraid of man’s best friend, Clarke’s captivation by the creatures did not begin until his girlfriend at the time suggested they get a Jack Russell. An instant leap from fear to fascination took place, and thus began his artistic endeavours in the dog world.
Julian Hartnoll Gallery sees Clarke delve deeper into the animal kingdom as he produces a select number of signed prints and paintings illustrating a variety of wild beasts, ghosts and Abominable Snowmen. Small and delicate works, these meticulous, ultramarine drawings stand in limbo on pristine cream backgrounds. A polar bear stares lovingly at the viewer, his head cocked to one side; a yeti points contently to the left, as if oblivious to any onlookers. Two very ferocious creatures by nature, yet Clarke’s playful approach serves to confuse the viewer with adorable stances and by giving his creations names: Peter and Steve.
The beasts become loveable and familiar, almost reminiscent of children’s tales in which animals display sophisticated and human traits. They may seem tame on paper but in their natural habitat they become ruthless killers. This is an aspect that Clarke does not forget, with small, sinister underlays present throughout the show.
The gallery itself is miniscule: a small area works ultimately as a buying room in opulent Mayfair, while the gallery specialises in contemporary and outsider art. Clarke’s understated pieces sit strangely in this wallpapered space, situated in old and musky Duke Street – a setting that couldn’t be further from Clarke’s fresh, tropical works. Yet this disparity does help to better distinguish the contrasts between the domestic and the wild.
The curious collection of creatures is fun and quirky, and representative of Clarke’s enthrallment with this world. Like his canine pieces, it displays the wonders of the beast and our sometimes naïve and domestic approach to it. A tiny show guaranteed to put a smile on your face; it’s worth popping in for a peek.
Robert Clarke: Kingdom is at Julian Hartnoll until 21st April 2013. For further information visit the gallery’s website here.