Clark Hulings | Timeless Beauty

La Vuccirria Market, Palermo, oil, 28 x 46
La Vuccirria Market, Palermo, oil, 28 x 46
By Susan Hallsten McGarry

For more than five decades, Clark Hulings has been a seeker of beauty. His insatiable appetite for it has prompted thousands of miles of travel, particularly in Europe. Giving up careers in portraiture, where he felt constrained by the formality of poses and the sitter’s expectations, and in illustration, in which he saw himself condemned to library stacks researching subjects he knew nothing about, Hulings chose instead to find beauty in his encounters with people engaged in everyday activities.
Hulings’ residence in New Mexico and his recognition in premier western American exhibitions have led critics to include him in the post-World War II western American realist movement. The association is not unfounded. The most obvious parallel with western artists of his generation is Hulings’ decision to reject modernist trends of expressionism and abstraction in favor of traditional naturalism. In terms of subject matter, Hulings’ appreciation of the landscape and of people engaged in animal husbandry is not unlike ranching lifeways. As to content, his celebration of time-honored values, including those of family and hard work, are also in keeping with much western art.

Not surprisingly, many western art collections proudly include Hulings’ paintings. Yet his work is set apart, not simply by masterful drawing and painting techniques that capture the textures of life, but also by the man himself. In an art world where following popular trends can be extremely lucrative, Hulings chose to listen to his own muse. And although he counts numerous western artists among his closest friends, Hulings never felt compelled to conform. Instead, from the very beginning of his fine-arts career, Hulings has dedicated himself to what he calls “slices of life” that resonate with him personally.
Hulings set out on his unique path in the early 1960s, even as he endeavored to be accepted at Grand Central Galleries in New York City. For months he returned to the gallery with paintings of Europe’s cathedrals, of Spain’s ubiquitous burros, and of laundry hanging out to dry in dazzling sunlight, only to be turned down because, he was told, such commonplace subject matter was not saleable. During one of his final attempts, a woman walked up to the sales desk and asked to purchase one of the paintings that was being evaluated. The gallery director recanted, and since then Hulings has never stopped pursuing his vision of beauty. “Isn’t it interesting that the art world, even in those days, was ruled by something as snobbish as whether or not it was socially acceptable to hang a particular subject on your wall,” Hulings said in our September 2006 interview.

Hulings has always been outspoken about subjects that resonate with him, both as evidenced in his art and in his conversation and writings. In a July 2006 interview, he declared that he loves farm and agrarian scenes and “makes beauty out of what others might think of as misery.” In his re-issued book, A Gallery of Paintings by Clark Hulings, he notes that “beauty can be found even in a garbage cart and an old crone picking at her ultimate tooth.” In our conversations, Hulings confessed to loving the potential for romance and dignity waiting to be discovered in the colors, shapes, and textures of a junkyard of rusting cars.

For the paintings in the show Timeless Beauty—Pursuing Life’s Textures, Hulings remains true to his vision in locations both familiar and foreign. Familiar to him are Spain, France, Italy, and Mexico, countries in which he has lived or traveled extensively. New to his repertoire are images from Romania, where he spent five weeks in 2004.

At age 84, Hulings is unapologetic about his nostalgia for Spain, where he lived from ages 4 to 6. His happiest memories of those early years include accompanying the family maid to Valencia marketplaces and to her home, where he played among farm animals and was given rides on the family burro. Hulings returns to Spain for this exhibition, depicting marketplaces such as barcelona market. His fondness for burros and donkeys has since become a trademark. Wherever he finds these stalwart critters, he immortalizes them, often as patient, supportive colleagues or as companions, as suggested in a boy and his burro…

Featured in May 2007

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