Monday, May 24, 2010

Paraskeva Clark, Russian Artist in Canada 1898-1986

Photography: Charles Comfort
Collection of the Library and Archives, National Gallery of Canada

"Who is the artist? Is he not a human being like ourselves, with the added gifts of finer understanding and perception of the realities of life...? Surely. And this being so, those who give their lives, their knowledge and their time to social struggle have the right to expect help from the artist. And I cannot imagine a more inspiring role than that which the artist is asked to play for the defence and advancement of civilisation."
(Paraskeva Clark, New Frontier, April 1937)

Working in Toronto from the early 1930’s, Paraskeva Clark was unique as a Canadian artist in expressing her leftist political leanings on canvas. She became active in the Canadian League against War and Fascism and was a close friend of Norman Bethune (1890-1939).

Paraskeva Plistik grew up in a working-class family in St. Petersburg, Russia. She studied art at the Petrograd Academy at night, while working days in a shoe factory. After the Revolution of 1917, she studied at the Academy from 1918 to 1921, renamed the 'Free Studios” by the Soviet government. Her teacher Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin, a follower of Cézanne, influenced her with his theories about the humanist purpose of art. In the fall of 1923, Paraskeva moved to Paris, where several years later, she met Philip Clark a Canadian whom she married in 1931 and moved to Toronto.

Paraskeva Clark brought to the Toronto art scene a consciousness of the structural and formal traditions of French art derived from Paul Cézanne and the Cubists. Her first Canadian paintings were portraits and still-lifes. Clark, however, could not ignore the political and economic crises brought about by the Depression, and the rise of Fascism. By the end of the 1930s, her work, as seen in Petroushka (1937), took on a new direction, as she became increasingly involved in the political issues of the day.

In November 1933, Clark participated in the first exhibition of the Canadian Group of Painters, held at the Art Gallery of Toronto and was elected to full membership in 1936. She continued to exhibit with them until the 1960s. Clark was a member of the Ontario Society of Artists and the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts.

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