My friendship with Phil Clarke goes back many years and I’m the proud owner of a number of his fine paintings, including some of his early work. There’s a gang of us who are Phil Clarke admirers, and I’m always visiting friends’ homes where his work adorns their walls.
As a journalist, I’ve always been interested in his philosophical approach to his work, which most often these days is concerned with conservation, internationalism, and social justice. But his paintings are not heavy handed didacticism, Phil always has an entertaining and whimsical insight into the human condition. His creative and technical skills enable him to focus on the chaos of change in modern society and magically transform his subjects into new visions – a wry look at what’s happening right now.
The title of his latest exhibition is “Beyond Realism”, and very quickly Phil’s respect and admiration for the work of Salvador Dali is obvious. That’s not surprising, given that Phil lived for ten years in the Spanish village of Cadaques where Dali and his wife Gala entertained a passing parade of artists and hippies. Phil still connects with friends from Cadaques, and believes the genius of Dali’s Surrealism is more relevant today than ever. He points out that Surrealism began as a revolutionary movement of poets and writers, born directly out of the horrors of the Great War. And war and its modern day perpetrators are very much on Phil’s mind in this exhibition. In the note to his painting “Masters of War”, Phil writes, “Why are we still fighting wars with each other when we have so many endangered species and a planet to save?”
Phil believes our whole existence has become surreal. His work goes back to basics, examining how we got from Ancient Egypt and before, to the modern world of technology and Artificial Intelligence. With humanity using up the habitat of almost every other species, he says we need cultural values inherited from the best principles of our ancestors, in the name of stability. They should not be ignored, because good leadership comes from character, moral fibre and from principles, not the 'pragmatism' of clinging to power. One of Phil’s heroes is Angela Merkel who, he says, “has proven that visionary leadership is based on doing the right thing, on being yourself and following your conscience, not the daily polls on every last issue.”
This is Phil’s first exhibition for eight years in his home town of Sydney, and it seems to me that these are paintings for the Ages. They’re definitely not the product of the latest fashion in art. I have always been interested by Phil's independent approach to his subject matter. These are sensitive and compassionate images about love and war and people, and the world around us. Like Phil’s favourite world leaders, they’re full of ideas that come from a heartfelt place of principled thought and culture.
Former journalist and TV producer
‘Beyond Realism’, a CHG pop-up exhibition from Phil Clarke opens Thursday 23 November 6-8pm at at Gallery Space Upstairs, Moorish Blue, 139 Blues Point Rd, McMahons Point in Sydney. More information, RSVP and invite your friends here.