Phil Clarke describes himself as a Pop Surrealist, while critics have drawn parallels with the enigmatic Surrealism of Dali and Magritte as well as the humorous, tongue-in-cheek influence of Andy Warhol. His paintings are characterised by startling, often amusing juxtapositions of the ordinary and the strange, which seize the viewer's attention and provoke a response.
Familiar images, whether from nature, pop culture, history, or the news media, appear in incongruous surroundings, which lend them new meaning. Distortions in scale create an imaginary space, where issues are explored by tropical fish, politicians, snooker cues and footballers, to name just a few of the artist's favourite motifs. Phil Clarke employs a meticulously detailed academic technique that heightens the dreamlike atmosphere of his imagery. Each of his works suggests a narrative that is not clearly defined, yet forms part of a conversation that occupies our daily lives.
Clarke's paintings, like Magritte's, present a challenge to accepted ways in which we see and think, and he has a good reason for this. Central to all his work is a desire to break through to some element of truth, however small, in an age of unprecedented information and misinformation. It may be about power, and its creative use or abuse, or conservation, or philosophy, history or geopolitics. Through the simple manipulation of light and dark, he seeks to involve the viewer in his concerns.
His beautiful and whimsical image of dolphins, swimming amidst clouds at 20,000 feet above the Pearl River, is also an impassioned plea for the survival of both these gentle, endangered creatures and the earth's fragile atmosphere, which the superpowers seem too preoccupied to protect. Is their survival a game of chance, as the cards suggest? Clarke's "Windows of the Sea" brings to mind an escape from lies and media hype, towards a world that might exist if we just read between the lines.
Phil Clarke was born in 1958 in Sydney and studied art at the National Art School from 1975 to 1978. He then lived in Europe for 10 years, most often in Cadaques, northeast Spain, where he met Salvador Dali, whom he visited and observed at work for three years from 1979 to 1982. Clarke first visited Hong Kong in 1985 and had five one-man shows here before returning to Sydney in 1996. He has also had 20 solo exhibitions in Sydney, Cadaques, Amsterdam, Tokyo, Paris, Barcelona, Los Angeles, and Marseilles.