Exemplified by Brunelleschi’s demonstration of one-point perspective in depicting the Baptistery in Florence 500 years ago, Renaissance pictorial space was built to encompass ecclesiastic architecture, and it’s been the standard for European painters to either meet or disrupt ever since. Watercolorist Timothy J. Clark has joined that tradition in his depictions of Baroque churches. Following Monet’s renditions of Rouen Cathedral, he has emphasized the qualities of light and shadow rather than space and volume. But the gravitas, once thought appropriate for such revered subjects, just isn’t there. Nor is the vibrant excitement that an Impressionist like John Singer Sargent could give to the effects of strong Mediterranean light falling on Italian buildings.
Often Clark creates a turbulent, exciting cloud formation overhead, but the buildings beneath them still feel frumpy, while his church interiors have neither the quiet clarity of the seventeenth century Dutch specialists nor the power of Modern expressionism. His glowing light over soft forms and cluttered space invokes a sense of nostalgia similar to what Thomas Kinkade, another “Painter of Light,” gave to sentimental scenes of rustic charm. Such images are more about comfort than awe. Some of Clark’s still lifes and figure paintings are also included in this exhibit, and they also seem to acknowledge rather than revive a great tradition. He always offers a careful modulation of tone, but neither a precise articulation nor a brash expression of form.
But when Clark’s formidable watercolor technique aims at nothing deeper than scenic charm—then he can make an intensely enjoyable painting. Like Chinese landscapists, he offers the excitement of a highly disciplined spontaneity, and I would not mind seeing an entire room of these carefree holiday excursions. They could hang beside the best scenic watercolors of J. M. W. Turner. Possibly they would not be so buoyant had the artist not worked so hard at making his other works feel more profound. Cosmic significance may be an unobtainable goal for contemporary artists, but apparently there’s some benefit in trying to reach it. (Chris Miller)
Through August 2 at the Loyola University Museum of Art, 820 North Michigan.