Tony Clark never formally trained as an artist, which might partly explain why he has been able to navigate different worlds at once. He brought traditionalist painting to the Melbourne avant-garde art and music scene; and he had an early epiphany that high art could also be decorative.
Clark sees himself as an Australian artist but with a base in rural Sicily; his Chinoiserie Landscape series has a self-evident Asian flavour, yet also echoes the psychedelic qualities he read into the Italian renaissance painter Andrea Mantegna’s tableaux. VAULT spoke to Clark, 63, during his recent trip home to Canberra to visit family ahead of a retrospective that marks 30 years of these seminal works.
What was life like in the art and music scene of 1970s Melbourne?
It was a great breeding ground for a lot of different activities, because no one ever felt they would get anywhere. You were right out of the mainstream. The punk movement opened up all sorts of possibilities for people, because you no longer needed the skills to do what you wanted to do.
I’d had no training as a painter, but I wasn’t going to let that get in the way. It was completely ad hoc, and artist-run spaces were springing up. So you didn’t have any commercial imperatives. Nobody expected to sell any work, and that was critically important. I had this great privilege of starting off with exhibitions in spaces hardly anybody went to, and hardly ever sold anything. ... Subscribe to read this article in full
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