llness made an artist out of Chris Clark. He had returned to his home in Alabama after an eight-year stint in the Army and was looking for work back in 1990, when he noticed his vision blurred, whenever he tried to fill out employment forms. Fearing he was losing his sight because of a fatal illness, Clark wanted to leave behind a visual record of special moments in his life before it was too late.
His grandmother had taught him to make quilts, but Clark wasn’t satisfied, just creating colorful patterns. He thought his sewn panels ought to tell stories, so, he began painting images on them with a mix of acrylic paint and fabric dye. (The Sermon on the Mount and The Crucifixion are fine examples of this genre.) His grandmother was horrified that he would want to ruin his needlework like that, but when Clark displayed his unique quilt paintings at flea markets, they found ready buyers.
Clark’s work comes out of a rich African-American tradition of “testimony art" and is full of vividly colored, biblical imagery in a naif style, redolent of childhood Sunday School lessons, often summoning up nostalgic scenes of Sunday church going and river baptisms. He has expanded his artistic repertoire to include assembled pieces made from “found objects” like The Last Supper, where the faces of Jesus and the disciples are, actually, wooden knobs.
Cross-stick is formed from two pieces of wood, painted with enamel and glitter, encrusted with a ruby-red piece of glass. The self-taught artist says the inspiration for this “spirit stick” series came while he was sitting in church and saw a stick of wood, engulfed by swirling buttons, fabric, glitter and paint, which finally came to rest on its surface. Clark is now a rising star on the Southern “visionary art” circuit, his health problems brought under control with diabetes treatments.