John Clarke Fine Arts
CAPTURING COUNTRY LIFE
The work of talented artist John Clarke encapsulates classic rural still life and the vibrancy and spirit of each of his subjects, writes Jan Woolley
Having started his career on the Dunsop Bridge estate, John Clarke went on to become the estate’s head gamekeeper – but after two decades it took a leap of faith to give up his job and become a full time artist.
“It was a big step but I was getting more and more commissions,” says John, who is entirely self-taught.
“A few times I had thought about going full time as an artist but it was such a big responsibility.”
As a schoolboy John’s talent was recognised at an early age – he went on to sit his O level art a year earlier than his contemporaries gaining an A*.
But it was his love of the outdoors and the countryside that took him out of town and into the countryside to become a gamekeeper and while John is still an active member of local shoots and is involved in the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC), painting now takes up much of his time.
“As a youngster I didn’t really paint, I sketched. I only really started painting after I got married and the boys were born,” recalls John, who is married to Rebecca, manager of Browsholme Hall’s Tithe Barn.
As a gamekeeper and artist John regularly attended the Country Landowners Association (CLA) Game Fair, and it was here that visitors began to notice his eye for detail.
“I was asked to paint some ducks and word spread, friends of friends began contacting me to paint their dogs and horses,” said John, who was commissioned by the Duchy of Lancaster to work on a painting for the Queen in 2006 – an honour that prompted him to pursue a full time career in art.
Working from his studio in Cowark in the Ribble Valley, using acrylic and oils, John paints anything from wildlife to still life but all his paintings are a beautiful reflection of classic country life and rural pursuits.
Since becoming a full time artist John’s work has become much sought-after and his paintings feature in private collections internationally and nationally.
Those that require exquisitely fine detail, he paints in acrylic enabling him to overlay paint and capture the finest most delicate features. This painstaking technique results in stunning, lifelike paintings.
This attention to detail led to him to include a tiny figure of a man shooting in each painting he now completes.
“For the last six or seven years I’ve included him somewhere within my paintings. It began when I was at a CLA Game Fair and I was painting on a stand and a crowd gathered around. I was painting a gun dog and a small child watching me noticed the figure in the reflection of the dog’s eye.
“I told him the dog was watching his master. It was a tiny figure, but I now include it somewhere in each painting – word has got out and people look for it. When they watch me paint at a game fair, they look really closely to see if they can spot him.”
It was while he was still working as a gamekeeper that John was asked to paint something for the Queen – a work in acrylic featuring two pheasants on a wall and John and his family were given the honour of presenting the painting during one of Her Majesty’s visits to the Ribble Valley.
John, who has a 10-month waiting list in commissions from people all over the UK, paints mainly working dogs and horses.
“I can be in Padstow one week and Scotland the next. Most people who paint dogs and horses ask clients to send a photograph and they paint from that. But I like to meet the people and meet the dogs. I think it is essential – I will sit down and watch the way they move, the way they behave and interact with the owner.
“I’ll make notes and probably take between 50 and 200 photographs. Meeting the people is probably the best part of what I do.
“I get to visit some amazing houses and talk to some very interesting people, who are really down to earth.
“The only commission I found quite difficult was a dog that barked constantly. I sat cross legged on a lawn watching him and he literally barked at everything!”
Painting is definitely a labour of love for John, who will work for around 25 hours on capturing the spirit and expression of a dog for example, while a more intricate painting may take up to 60 hours.
He is also regularly commissioned to design shoot cards and among the shooting fraternity, his work is legendary: “Everyone who shoots loves their gun so I often get asked to paint a still life of guns, gun cases, which I really like to do. I love the detail that is involved, everything has to be exact.”www.johnclarkefinearts.co.uk