Derek Clarke RSA 1912-2014
Elected RSA: 21 June 1989
Elected RSA: 25 May 2005
Derek Clarke MBE RSA RSW (1912-2014) was born in Longthorpe near Peterborough on the last day of 1912. He was educated at Ampleforth College and attended Slade School of Art from1931-1935. At that time, the Slade's curriculum emphasised drawing as a tool for visual research, Seeing it as an authentic art form in its own right, not merely a preparation for subsequent painting. Slade students, under the influence of such luminaries as Henry Tonks and Augustus John, were encouraged to admire contemporary European painting, and look to the New English Art Club rather than the Royal Academy to exhibit.
On leaving art college, and with no scholarship to support him, Derek earned a living by painting portraits. Indeed, it was a portrait commission that took him for the first time to the west coast of Ireland, where he worked hard to produce a large body of work-a personal artistic epiphany-among the Gaelic Speaking rural folk in Rossaveel, Connemara. He would return a year or two later to develop the theme she had begun there.
On the day following declaration of WW2, Derek joined up for officer training in the Durham Light Infantry. He served in Tunisia, and, in1943, was wounded in the spine. Back in London for a year's convalescence, Derek spent at least half his time painting. Not for him the dreary greys of wartime England, but, with a sparkling palette of vibrant colours, he flooded his canvases with bright imagery, winning admiration from Stanley Spencer for work he Showed at the New English Art Club, and Securing portrait commissions from such luminaries as the lranian Military Attache. Married by now to his first wife Ann, he lived the precarious life of wartime Londoners-the unimaginable daily brutality of the bombing and AK-AK fire, contrasting poignantly with concerts given by Dame Myra Hess in the National Galleries.
Immediately the war was over, Derek returned to Connemara and to his fascination with the lives and characters in that wild landscape. Working at a furious rate, he amassed a substantial quantity of work. On returning to London with these canvases, however, he discovered that artistic tastes had changed radically. Bond Street Galleries and their patrons were less interested in images of Irish peasants, than in the new vogue for Surrealism and Abstraction. A true appreciation of this superb body of work had to wait until 2004 when it was exhibited in Dublin to much acclaim and the sale of all but a few of the paintings and drawings.
By1947, the Clarke family had expanded to include 4 young sons, and fortuitously at this time, Derek was invited by Robert Lyon, Principal of Edinburgh College of Art, keen to introduce new ideas in art teaching, to join the Staff of its Drawing and Painting School. The young tutor's colleagues included Robin Philipson (newly returned from a travelling scholarship) Alan Carr, Leonard Rosoman, a fellow Englishman who taught mural painting, Johnny Maxwell, and William Gillies, the Head of School. He retired in 1978 after 30 years teaching and continued to paint 'everyday that there is good light.’
In 2013, the RSA presented a retrospective of his long career to coincide with his 100” birthday. Derek was madean Associate of the Royal Scottish Academy in 1989 and a full Academician in 2006. He was made MBE in 2014.
Transcribed from the 2014 RSA Annual Exhibition Catalogue