Sunday, January 24, 2010
My friend the author Jane Lind recently launched her latest book, "Perfect Red, the Life of Paraskeva Clark" published by Cormorant Books . Jane's mission is to bring to light the work of Canadian women artists, as witnessed by her first book, "Joyce Wieland: Artist on Fire" which was published in 2001 and was shortlisted for the Toronto Book Award in 2002.
Perfect Red is the biography of Paraskeva Clark who was born in 1898 into a working class family in Russia. Educated as an artist in the 20's after the the 1917 Russian Revolution, her work was inspired by the social and political conditions in her country. After the tragic death of her husband in a swimming accident, she moved to Paris with her young son. In Paris, Paraskeva met Philip Clark, a Canadian accountant, and after a two-year correspondence courtship, Philip came to London to marry Paraskeva. The pair then traveled to Canada to begin their life together. I don't think Philip had any idea how his life would be turned upside down. Paraskeva was a tiny, feisty and opinionated woman, who quickly moved into the inner circles of the art world in Toronto, rubbing shoulders with the greats in Canadian art of the time; such as Carl Schaefer, Frances Loring, Florence Wyle, Andre Bieler, A.Y Jackson, and Bertram Brooker among others. Flouting the staunch English mores of Toronto in 30's and 40's, Paraskeva acted as she wished, speaking loudly if she wished, dressed as she wished and slept with whoever she wished. She and Norman Bethune had several brief flings. Underlying her life though was great sadness. Her son Ben became a schizophrenic in his early 20's, and was ever after unable to live by himself. His welfare was always a deep concern and worry for Paraskeva.
Paraskeva become an influential Canadian artist and is known mainly for her portraits, still-lifes and landscapes. One part of her story I found so interesting, was the constant paradox in her life: she came from a working-class background yet lived as the wife of a successful accountant in the prestigious Rosedale area of Toronto. As if in deference to her working class heritage, she refused to drive a car and walked downtown every day, as had been the custom in Europe, to do her daily grocery shopping, yet complained about not having enough time to paint. It was as though she was torn apart with this constant condundrum. I feel that this inner conflict, as well as her constant worry about her son Ben, showed itself in the intense emotional depth of her work.
Sadly for Paraskeva, the 50's came and with the times, came Abstract art, a form she could not relate to. She felt left out, passed over, and although it didn't happen overnight, this previously strong and feisty woman gradually withdrew from making art. Jane Lind has brought her back to life in this wonderful biography.