Daisy Clarke’s 2009 painting The Snowy Path depicts a figure in a snowy landscape on a crisp and lucid winter’s day, a figure whom we have simply come across, who is exactly, now, at the distance when we cannot tell if she regards us too, or if, her thoughts elsewhere, she has not yet recoginized that she is no longer alone.
Daisy Clarke’s work has subsumed the example of the influences she cites (Jockum Nordstrom, The Clayton Brothers and Katherine Streeter – often illustrators that use collage) resulting in a rough-hewn childlike aesthetic that resembles collage, but without the barrage of disjunctions; there is a seamlessness to the paintings, even when mixed media is used, so that they form a world apart. This lineage and the arresting naivete of the work leads the viewer to the melancholy feeling that they are not quite sure how to respond, or to what to assign weight, or feel as emphasis.
Often, as is confirmed by the artist’s method of illustrating ephemera – “newspaper stories that were random, strange and poetical”- it feels as if the story illustrated is now lost, creating an encounter not dissimilar to the way we encounter other people, whose stories rarely are articulated in a way that might be preserved or even accessed.
All waiting, palpably, perhaps in spite of themselves, it is hard to say or speculate what the figures are waiting for, and they seem to occupy a haunting fairytale, an inaccessible story. The figures are all grotesque, in the specific way that Sherwood Anderson meant it, in Winesburg Ohio, in which he describes the hundreds of truths, “There was the truth of virginity and the truth of passion, the truth of wealth and of poverty, of thrift and of profligacy, of carelessness and abandon. Hundreds and hundreds were the truths and they were all beautiful. And then the people came along… It was the truths that made the people grotesques… the moment one of the people took one of the truths to himself, called it his truth, and tried to live his life by it, he became a grotesque and the truth he embraced became a falsehood.”
This apartness may find its source too in the astonishing naivete of the paintings, the sense one gets in the works of Jean Jacques Rousseau of the artist setting down his subjects as they appear in the mind’s eye, see for example the orientalism of Woman Gazing in a Mirror. Indeed, Clarke’s paintings allude to this Symbolist, but also to the Old Masters like Manet by way of Surrealists like Leonora Carrington, and the pre-Raphaelites. So intimate with past paintings and painters, Clarke’s works still emerge as particular.
This middle distance, this historical allusiveness and contemporary stillness or loneliness, the synthetic grasping of collage without the disjunctions nor the text that counterpoints or illustrates an image; all contribute to a quality in the work that is perhaps most accessibly crystallized in the trope of the animal as a kind of companion form to the figure. Take Woman with Siamese Cat, for example, in which there seems to be a parallel between the sparkle in the eyes of the woman and glimmer in the eyes of the animal, so that it seems to hold just as much back as the figure. And what then of the sparkle of the woman’s earrings, and those glints of light that so often find their way into a Daisy Clarke painting? It holds us at a precise distance – so that the viewer feels a just regard for the figure. One thinks of the “elderly Countess in All’s Well That Ends Well, who, discovering that Helena loves her son, says with deep kindness: ‘Now I see/The mystery of your loneliness.’” [Barbara Everett]
Comparison with Edward Hopper is instructive. New Yorker art critic Peter Schjeldahl describes Hopper in a way that is of great pertinence to Clarke. Of Office in a Small City (1953) he writes that “Both characters appear to daydream, absenting themselves from themselves, as people by Hopper do.” He notes too that ”Hopper’s is an art of illuminated outsides that bespeak important insides. He vivifies impenetrable privacies.”