By Briar Stewart
At the Ryerson Gallery, colleagues and former students of Douglas Clark gather, and, while sipping from glasses of cabernet, they recall the man’s life-long passion for photography.
In the small white room, more than 35 prints are displayed as part of the exhibit entitled “In Memoriam/ In Gratitude” to honour the former professor of Image Arts.
Clark was still active in his work as an artist, a curator and an educator when he died suddenly of a heart attack in July 1999, at the age of 47.
It was Clark’s guidance as a teacher that inspired Thomas Clayton to create an exhibit to honour him.
Clayton, a former student of Clark’s, graduated from Ryerson in 1998 and developed a very strong friendship with the man he described as a great influence.
“I never got the chance to show him what an impact he had on me as a student and as an artist.” Clayton said that Clark taught him to have confidence in his work.
“I had so much respect for him that when he approved of my work it meant so much more to me.”
So together with Vid Ingelevics, another former student of Clark’s, Clayton created an exhibit that would give students an opportunity to express their feelings about their teacher and mentor.
The display not only features work by 25 Ryerson graduates but showcases art by some of Clark’s former student from the School of Art and Design in Hamburg, Germany.
Though Clark’s own art included sculpture and other media, photography was his main interest.
Ingelevics says Clark’s love of collecting made him a “connoisseur of scavenging.” In one of his best-known pieces, a book entitled Articles of Faith, Clark photographed different objects and then spliced all the negatives together in a collage.
Sarah Beck, a photographer and graduate from Ryerson, contributed a piece entitled “Worst Year Yet,” a project about death and the environment that she completed during her graduating year in 1998.
Beck excitedly waves her hands while she tells about Clark’s influence as her mentor and his lasting effect on her as an artist and as a person.
“He always emphasized the importance of coming back to a piece,” says Beck, who adds that it is for this reason all the prints are hung on the wall without frames.
She explains Clark never used frames and instead encouraged the students to look at their work’s relationship with reality — a concept she says has influenced her own art.
Her latest project entitled “Ode” can best be described as an IKEA catalogue showcasing modern weapons. She says her art’s relationship with society was inspired by Clark’s teachings.
At the opening of the exhibit Clark’s wife Tina walks around the room greeting the artists and admiring the work.
“It’s such a wonderful idea,” she says. “You can look around the room and see there is a common thread that has joined all of these people together.”
Before taking the position at Ryerson, Clark exhibited his work and lectured throughout Canada and Europe. His work has not only been displayed at many one-person shows, but are parts of prestigious collections, including the Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography.
He has also won many awards including the Duke and Duchess of York Prize for Photography from the Canada Council.