Spare Parts

This text was written by Sara Roberts for the Solo Exhibition in 2013 titled;

Spare Parts

Maverick, humorist, risk-taker, conceptual artist David Clarke delights in shifting his approaches and priorities to shake up every assumption about the nature and value of vessels and he confesses a deep love of the discipline of silver. This exhibition showcases the latest phase of his innovative metalwork. Long gone is the sleek silversmithing phase, the deconstructive post-modernist phase, and the witty, pragmatic phase using found objects. He never takes for granted within his own work the connotations, form, treatment, finishing, display; all is up for negotiation, nothing is really set. Until works are purchased, and make their way in the world, they are fair game and may be subject to resourceful amendment and reconfiguration. As soon as an activity seems predictable, it is time to shred the rulebook and seek new kinds of engagement with material, with culture, with audience.

There has long been something corporeal and surgical about Clarke’s work, but now the metaphor is more developed: the vessel as body, silver as the skin, with arterial tubes and thrusting limbs. This combines with a more industrial, architectural vocabulary: ducts; chambers and apertures; the arteries of a building. Clarke has further developed the notion of earlier ‘cut and shut’ works, which drastically reduced the volumes of vessels through excision and soldering, sometimes shearing off the generous curves of found silver objects and replacing them with planes of startling flatness. New works begin with elemental forms; two cylinders are soldered together into an ‘elbow,’ inspired by an awkwardly-rendered arm in a Cezanne painting. They are rather uncomfortable, darkly funny, lastingly engaging.

Most silver vessels have a notional ‘function’, but are actually just decorative, demonstrative of status, commemorative. Artist Cornelia Parker examined this dichotomy in her work ‘Thirty Pieces of Silver’ in 1988, which both revealed and re-evaluated the narrative of crushed silver trophies. The American artist Myra Mimlitsch-Gray’s ‘Four-handled skillet’ demonstrates the nonsense of function in vessels, by morphing recognisable units into multi-handled, ambiguous forms devoid of any purpose other than culture and critique. Clarke’s pragmatic use of ‘craft’ materials and vessel forms has parallels in the work of British sculptors such as Richard Deacon and Tony Cragg.

David Clarke does not merely make objects with a questioning eye, he questions the need for the objects in the first place – why silver? Why so precious? Why the vessel? Why the obsession with beauty? He is happy to upset the silversmithing canon by contaminating the silver with corrosive salt, with lead; this sacrilege is, however, rooted in a love of the material and a desire to exploit the very limits of its potential – and take it beyond, to degradation and decay.

In developing his ideas and his titles, Clarke borrows quotations and overheard conversations, to make his work both irreverent and touching. He is at heart as interested in people as in objects, and hopes to encourage a longer, deeper engagement with the object by sparking off narratives within the viewer. The story of the making is evident in the finished pieces. Averse to the niceties of ‘finishing’, Clarke seldom glosses over the brutal processes of manufacture, leaving the marks of construction and decision-making on view: a seam is nubbly and prominent; a dent is preserved; the surface is wilfully inconsistent.

“I have no wish to consciously ‘surface’ the metal,” he says. “With pieces being tarnished, scratched and marked from the bench, I hope they lose the scary, intimidating aspect many people find themselves confronted with when viewing precious, perfect silver.”

Since David Clarke graduated from the Royal College of Art in 1997, his collections of objects have progressively and systematically broken most of the rules of silversmithing. And while he sits firmly at the forefront of new conceptual metal practice in the UK and is well-represented in significant European public and private collections, he takes pride in his iconoclastic attitude to the precious use of precious materials, which throughout his many phases has remained at the service of his art.


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