VERMONT HARDWOOD SCULPTURE ROUGH AND SMOOTH
John Clarke carves hardwood sculpture aiming to reveal the struggles that shape growth in any life form. At Princeton, he majored in English and minored in Art History, but became an English teacher when he discovered during the ‘60s that his love for young people exceeded his love of artistic expression – for the moment. After teaching high school students for five years and surviving Vietnam, he fled to Vermont where he taught at UVM for 25 years. In South Starksboro and Buels Gore, he found refuge in the woods where overgrown pastures generated wildly distorted trees struggling with each other to find a safe pathway to sunlight. At first he pulled out firewood, but stumbled onto strange shapes that deserved polishing and a few coats of oil. He began to focus on burls, whose tortured shapes could yield a fine bowl.
In the 1990s, carving burls absorbed his focus, not as bowls but as human figures whose growth was shaped by unruly circumstance. Black maple burls became his favorite medium. Attacked from the outside my disease, fungus, sand or damage, trees turned themselves inside out in their fight to remain upright. Sculpting a burl reveals the patterns a tree devises to remain standing among other trees. A burl could become a pregnant woman, a blinded king, a boy climbing a dead snag or a family of elves. John began to show these creatures around Addison County Art on Main, The Great Falls Art Gallery, The Art House, Middlebury Arts Walk, and the @ Gallery in Bristol. Further afield, he showed his burls at SEABA in Burlington, The Maltex Building in Burlington, National Life of Vermont, the Studio Place in Barre and several years of Open Studio He also brought his figures and tools to Vermont schools where young people could taste the allure of banging a chisel into some formless stump.
John Clarke now works at the intersection of the human and the arboreal, exploring patterns in wood that help explain what it takes to live.