Elizabeth Clark 1947 – 2008
Louise Williamson and I had the honour of sorting through the contents of Elizabeth Clark’s studio today, April 2, 2008, at her husband’s request. As fellow members of a studio cooperative, the Burns Visual Arts Society, we were familiar with each other’s working methods and space. Yet to enter the studio of a beloved friend in her profound absence was, unexpectedly, soothing.
Although Elizabeth had been ill for some time, her sudden passing on March 10 came as a shock to everyone. I like to think that an artist who had been fascinated by roadside shrines would want to incorporate the single white rose or the stem of hydrangia left on her studio door, into a new construction. Perhaps she is.
Elizabeth was an immensely curious and creative individual whose range of knowledge was as diverse as it was extensive. Not surprisingly, her studio reflected her eclectic imagination. Traditional art supplies were interspersed with the raw materials for her tongue-in-cheek constructions: X-rays, rear-view mirrors, Christmas lights, tampons, wind up dentures … The most touching was a small pair of rubber boots still sticky with white glue near a container of gummy bears, a work-in-progress from her “Gumboots” series.
Primarily a sculptor, Elizabeth, created fantastic (in the literal sense) garments to clothe, and comment upon, the body. “Chore Girl,” a ball gown fashioned entirely from copper scrub pads, hung in one corner. “Smoking Jacket,” constructed from lung X-rays carefully stitched together wasn’t there but some of the bustier series were. A favourite of mine was a red bustier created from a roll of tickets aptly named “Admit One.”
Much of this work had been exhibited in solo and group exhibitions throughout Alberta and in her home province of Quebec (Montreal). Other work is housed in public collections such as the Alberta Foundation for the Arts or is privately owned.
Among the working notes and sketches in her studio there were botanical studies, printouts on obscure cameras, class notes from the Alberta College of Art where we first met as students 25 years ago. Elizabeth graduated in 1984 followed by a BFA from Concordia in Montreal in the 1990s. As a mature student with a zany sense of humour, Elizabeth thrived on the stimulating interaction of young people both at art school and in the workplace: Stewart Hall in Montreal, the Triangle Gallery, Nickle Arts Museum, and Glenbow Museum in Calgary.
Indeed she enjoyed life in its many and varied forms. We found dog treats stashed away for her 4-footed companions. Basil was her favourite. That quirky dog could meet, greet (and serendipitously remove her earrings) in his exuberant, soft-mouthed welcome.
Sorting through the studio of this talented, generous and compassionate artist was bittersweet. We thank her husband, Desmond – who was kept busy loading the van with Elizabeth’s constructions, maquettes, drawings, monoprints and image transfers – for entrusting us with this privilege.
Her friends and colleagues are working toward sharing her creativity and joie de vivre in a retrospective exhibition, tentatively called “An Elizabethan Moment.” We welcome your comments and suggestions.
Respectfully, Bev Tosh