Tony Clark

Kufic Landscape, 1991
acrylic on 9 canvas board
61.0 x 405.0 cm
signed, dated and inscribed with title (on the reverse of each panel)

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Private collection, Melbourne
Professor Roger Benjamin collection, Sydney

'Wood/Marsh and Tony Clark', City Gallery, Melbourne, 30 April - 30 May, 1992
'Tony Clark: Public and Private Paintings
1982-1998', Museum of Modern Art at Heide, Melbourne,
19 May - 12 July 1998

'Arts Diary', 'Vogue Living', May 1992, llus.p. 138-139,
R Benjamin, 'Mysteries of the Villa Sino-Romana',
'Art + Text', Vol. 44, January 1993, pp 34-41; illus,p.41
M Delany, R McKenzie, G Forsyth, 'Tony Clark: Public and Private Paintings 1982-1998', Melbourne, 1998 (exh cat), illus. p.26

Tony Clark's astonishing 'Kufic Landscape' (1991) is a painting on canvas board comprised of nine panels. Stretching 3 metres in length, this sprawling landscape unravels before the viewer like an ancient scroll. It is part of a wider series of work by the same name that the artist began in 1991, at the height of the global hysteria around Islam. Troubled by these sentiments, Clark created this seminal piece as a kind of homage to the richness of Islamic culture.

Sitting at the intersection of abstraction and figuration, 'Kufic Landscape' is a sophisticated hybrid of cultural references. Clark appropriates the traditional calligraphy of 8th century Arabic script, marrying these calligraphic lines with forms from the natural environment such as palms, flowers and trees. Masterfully painted to create the impression of a decorative low-relief carving, the work complicates the conventional hierarchical relations between painting, sculpture and the decorative arts.

Professor Roger Benjamin has described Clark as a "tourist in traditional cultures, fascinated by the idea that vegetal form, at some distant point… may of itself inscribe a literary message, a precise intellectual content". In 'Kufic Landscape' the artist sets up a compelling visual and conceptual dialogue between two antithetical art camps: the traditional Western representation of landscape and Islam's prohibition on creating likeness.

  • Kufic Landscape

Courtesy of the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney

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In a career that has traversed landscape and abstract painting, Tony Clark is one of Australia's leading conceptual artists, renowned for his decades-long series that examine popular cultural phenomena through history. Wayne Tunnicliffe, head of Australian Art at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, has written of Clark's work "Pop, classicism and conceptual art have converged to provide an echo-chamber where each strand could comment on the other".

Born in Canberra in 1954, Tony Clark currently lives and works in Sicily, Italy and Essen, Germany. Raised in London and Rome, and after formative years in Melbourne’s experimental art and music scenes with the likes of Nick Cave and Howard Arkley, Clark studied art history but was a self-taught painter. A self-defined “punk classicist”, for over four decades Clark has sought to challenge conventional art historical narratives and with large-scale compositions of explosive colour and archetypal forms. Prominent series have included his “sacro-idyllic” landscapes of the early 1980s, drawn from the ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum, his Chinoiserie series (since 1987) in which he made plasticine miniatures of pagodas and painted them with bold, expressive backgrounds, and his Myriorama series (since 1985) in which he has created hundreds of landscape panels that can be arranged and interchanged freely, just like the Victorian children's game of the same title.

Tony Clark has exhibited for four decades and features in major public and private collections in Australia and abroad. A major retrospective, Tony Clark – Public and Private Paintings 1982-1998, was held at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, 1998. Clark also featured in the prestigious dOCUMENTA IX, Kassel, Germany (1992).