Black and white and real all over

Karla Hayward
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Exhibition review U.S. photographer continues exploration of province

Robert Clarke-Davis has been travelling around Newfoundland, snapping photos and soaking up the spirit of our rocky, rainy land for more than seven years. Originally from Baltimore, Md., Clarke (as he's often called) first found his way here through the artist-in-residence program at the Pouch Cove Foundation and the Gros Morne artist retreat operated by Parks Canada. He's currently a teacher at the School at the Institute of Fine Art in Chicago.

But for now, he's back at the James Baird Gallery, Pouch Cove, with a new, self-titled exhibition. It takes the form of 22 silver gelatin 40" X 42" prints. Hung simply with bull-clips in an expanse of white, they serve as hard-stop punctuation; their sharp graphic nature forcing you to toss out an anchor in front of each one.

Work by U.S. photographer Robert Clarke-Davis Dory. Submitted photo

Robert Clarke-Davis has been travelling around Newfoundland, snapping photos and soaking up the spirit of our rocky, rainy land for more than seven years. Originally from Baltimore, Md., Clarke (as he's often called) first found his way here through the artist-in-residence program at the Pouch Cove Foundation and the Gros Morne artist retreat operated by Parks Canada. He's currently a teacher at the School at the Institute of Fine Art in Chicago.

But for now, he's back at the James Baird Gallery, Pouch Cove, with a new, self-titled exhibition. It takes the form of 22 silver gelatin 40" X 42" prints. Hung simply with bull-clips in an expanse of white, they serve as hard-stop punctuation; their sharp graphic nature forcing you to toss out an anchor in front of each one.

Since his first day here, Clarke's taken a different look at this province and her people from most. Like the man himself, Clarke's work is low key, gentle but unapologetically honest. Clarke has a habit of snapping a photo when no one's looking; he's perfected the art of becoming invisible to his subject, allowing him to capture truly candid images. He's also got an endearing habit of mailing back a photo he's taken of you - most often unawares - with a cute line and the date.

For this show, Clarke has chosen works devoid of people. It's about all things ordinary - finding that singular angle and moment that takes a place or thing from easily overlooked to can't look away.

The shining white prow of a painted dory leaps out of one, somehow almost three-dimensional. Blades of grass and weeds have already begun to encroach on its cradle, hinting at neglect. In another, translucent plastic shopping bags act as scarecrows, rustling and moving against a bed of dark green vegetables, made black by the medium. In a third, a child's playhouse sits forlorn and abandoned on the grass, wondering if it will ever again find use.

Newfoundland is shown in all her unfettered glory through four seasons. You'll see a stark chain-link fence cut a line through fresh-fallen snow next to a sun-shot image of handmade pool within a pool. Clarke's captured the province's beauty, her sense of loss, her spitfire pride in every one.

This is no bright and shiny version of the province.

It's closer, truer for its starkness. It's the dead time after the ball game when everyone's gone home, but before the sun sets. Or the thick, grey moment before the rain arrives and douses that sheet set out on the line to dry.

Clarke has made a study of our province, people and land perhaps more thorough than any other CFA. Or, at least truer, less romanticized, without pretense.

This self-titled show is a spare but thoughtful exhibit.

See Clarke-Davis' work at the James Baird Gallery, Pouch Cove, until July 27, by appointment (727-9771) or chance. Go to www.rc-d.com for the artist's blog and images, or jamesbaird.ca for more.

telyarts@yahoo.com

Organizations: Pouch Cove Foundation, Parks Canada, Institute of Fine Art CFA

Geographic location: Newfoundland, Pouch Cove, U.S. Baltimore, Md. Chicago

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