"it's not a utopia, but a better world"
APS Gallery in partnership with Ort Gallery and ICF presents the Agency of Realised Worlds.
An exhibition that celebrates the life work of the Artist Clement Archibald. We invite you to take a first look at Clem’s vibrant and bold paintings that span over 60 years. Clem is a skilled self-taught artist in his seventies who has lived in LS4 since arriving from St Kitts aged 8 years old.
This exhibition is a collaboration with between Artist Clement Archibald and Curator Sarah Francis, that which explores and showcases his Archibald’s unseen painting spanning six decades. Two different creatives, two different socio-cultural perspectives, with a shared sense of the different worlds realised through art and making. The project has spanned 12 months, curating the stories and paintings that represent different stages of Clement’s life and experiences. An autobiographical journey of an artist almost left behind by barriers in the cultural world, showcasing his incredible, underappreciated talent.
Exhibition Dates: 23 June – 25 August 2023.
Exhibition Opening Friday 30th June (6:30pm – 9:30pm)
Clem Archibald in conversation with Pamela Crowe
Agency of Realised Worlds exhibition celebrates the life work of the Artist Clem Archibald. This exhibition is a collaboration between Artist Clem Archibald and Curator Sarah Francis.
Heading down to APS I first meet the curator Sarah Francis for a brief summary of the project before getting a chance to sit down with Clem. Sarah explains “Art has the power to transport an artist from a world they feel a sense of unbelonging in, into a world of their own imagination, of safety and where they can share their stories. A world where they can be their authentic selves without the fear of prejudice, and harm from others. A world that is unashamedly the WE we seek. These worlds we create carry transformative powers to be able to translate these stories into the real world, so that we can connect, relate, and be moved with exploration. Agency of Realised worlds explores the talented work of Clem, a proud Leeds artist we should all be celebrating. His art is saturated in Leeds history and an untold personal connection which he explores in his paintings. I have been a privileged guest inside Clem’s world and I am so thrilled to be permitted to showcase his paintings in this exhibition. His artwork should be in collections, and I hope that after 60 years this exhibition can form the start of his legacy and a shift in finding and platforming our hidden voices within Leeds.”
Sarah introduces me to Clem who greets me with a modest handshake before instantly beginning to share his life story. From leaving St Kitts aged 8, Clem has spent most of his life in Burley, Leeds. He creates work predominantly in acrylic though also works with pastels and chalk. I get a chance to look at his poetry too. We look through a collection of his artwork, mostly the acrylics.Clem tells me there are pieces he misses, work he’s sold, given away or even had stolen, that he wishes he still had in his possession. We talk about what it means to create work and pass it on, what the process is in making a painting and what the artist’s relationship is to the work they make. “The world I’ve been trying to dream up, you know, is something in the lines of these paintings. And just, I don’t know, my mind’s gone blank lately. I’ve been doing sketches, things I might want to do, or see it’s not a utopia, but a better world.’
For Clem, the relationship to the work is very real, and those pieces he no longer has access to still feel very much part of him. This makes sense when you view Clem’s work up close. At first sight, the paintings are vivid and intensely packed. Repeating primary colours form a sense of patterning, the intensity of which dissolves the closer you step; individual shapes come into focus. There are repeating forms, often appearing bone-like, evoking plant life or creatures now calcified; fossilised forms sit next to Yorkshire stone walls. Imagined sea shapes and creatures (though plausibly just not yet discovered) coil and lodge between coral shapes, tendrils reaching and finding their way through the painting, creating links and relationships between the mix of forms on the paper. It’s like a giant habitat.
Clem’s works hold the built environment alongside the natural. To Clem, these are all habitable places, the meeting point of his inner eye – of a seen, remembered or imagined landscape – coastal, remote, underwater, or inland Yorkshire perhaps – sharing space with buildings and recognisable objects or structures. There’s often unrecognisable objects too, or ones which give you a sense of a thing, without committing to being knowable or immediately identifiable. Clem invites you to sit with the paintings, look into them, find your own meaning.
Clem talks about his family and his early years arriving in Leeds aged 8; of school, work and further education. There were ten children in the family and Clem describes the impact that caring for younger siblings had upon his early life. This, alongside the daily racial abuse he experienced at school from pupils and teachers, gives you a sense of what his 8 year self experienced and what he has continued to experience. Clem speaks of the friends he made across the different immigrant communities in Leeds – Burley was his found community, Leeds his home.
The intense detail and compactness of the forms in his work appears to reflect both Clem’s internal and external world, of a sense of belonging and not belonging, of a sense of being both found or lost, like so many of the objects he inserts into the work. As an artist he is able to achieve contrasting and seemingly incompatible things: displacement looms large, objects, humans, fish all share an underwater habitat. Yet, there is always a gregariousness and busy-ness to the work, of people and things sharing a communal space; having to live together, co-existing alongside each other.
Perhaps it’s not surprising that in the work of a city-based artist, the intensity of city life swells from his work. But – every so often, gaps appear, as if the painting stops for breath and we’re treated to an emerging pocket of sky or a lakeside vista, paths into trees, warm sun and skies.
The work evokes nights spent focused on a painting, the hours going by. Clem talks of his process of working on a painting over perhaps three months, how various works were kept out to be looked at, contemplated upon as he worked out what he wanted to add next.
We discuss two works in particular detail. The first appears to have similar patterns and shapes to the rest of his work but Clem starts to point out unique details within it: a basketball shape, the Twin Towers, stars, stripes.
Pamela: So this is all about the US then?
Clem: Yeah, purely about the US
It’s an incredible landscape, a jigsawed depiction of US history, migration, trauma, wealth, woven through with an evocation of the continent’s land state before settlers arrive. Trees, lakes and foliage assert space amongst the buildings and commodities. Sky does too.
Pamela: There’s bits of pockets of sky in your work.
Clem: I always try to put a bit of sky in. Yeah, because I like sky.
Clem starts explaining the next work: “this is about demolition, because this area was totally razed to the ground. Right? In the 60s. And I remember that, you know.” He’s speaking about Burley, just up the road from where we’re sat in Aire Place Studios.
Pamela: So they could build on the land?
Clem: Well, no, because they didn’t build on it for years. And the first thing they did build was Mecca, the roller skating arena, right.
And as you peer into the work, you see it. The demolition of an area. Segments of walls, parts of a roof, a remnant from a piece of machinery evoking his Father’s work in engineering.
Clem goes on to explain the found materials he would sometimes use to paint on such as a cardboard insert used in shirt packaging, or large envelopes:
Clem: I used to get records mailed to me from record companies, those big brown envelopes. I painted on a couple of those.
Pamela: Okay, well, I think I’ve seen one with postage.
Clem: Yeah, with the postmark. Yeah, like that. I like the postmark. Because, who else is gonna have, you know, painted on a thing like that? It’s really not about whether the painting is good or not, it’s just about that it’s different. That’s all I wanted to do. My own style and my own way with it.
You get a sense of Clem’s natural compulsion as an artist; of his close intimacy with, and relationship to the work he makes. But then, always with Clem, as we talk, the everyday crashes in as it does in his paintings. Imagined dream-like-scapes never completely take over, never completely hold the space alone. And this reflects Clem’s reality. His recognition of his interest in art and his need to paint, of his studies at College and time spent on a placement in a primary school teaching the children art – avowing that anyone can do what he does, anyone can make art. He means it. You know he means it. And this reflects his artistic practice, as someone deeply modest, committed and loyal to his work, mourning the pieces he no longer has, convinced, utterly convinced that anyone can paint and draw. There is no artist statement, there is a life. And a huge body of work – that is the statement. That’s Clem Archibald’s practice. It’s all there in the work.
Pamela Crowe (artist & writer) – www.pamelacrowe.com @crowe_pamela
The Majority against Minority
Once again, our peace has been shattered by grief
Another young man’s life has been taken
In a racist attack, just because he was Black
An all too often recurring situation.
Whenever one looks back at the decades of facts
Justice has been conspicuous by its absence
How can anyone justify such inhumane acts
In this so called civilised, multicultural nation.
We no longer believe, in streets paved with gold
And discovered to our pain, that your welcome is cold.
It’s the shame of your history that has created your fear
If it was not for slavery, we would not be here.
Centuries of transportation from Africa in chains
To the terrible fate of being sold off as slaves
Americans grew rich from cotton slaves picked
And Britain from its Caribbean, sugar plantations.
A fair question to ask is; What did black people do wrong
To deserve the oppression and cruelty, we have suffered so long
Enduring the injustice, the lash on their backs
Questioning god’s wisdom in making us black.
When the news was announced that slaves would be set free
Those so-called Christians disagreed with this decree
The suffering continued without hope of an end
Segregation and apartheid became the new trends.
The mother country needs you, a historical proclamation
Black people came to Britain by express invitation
They answered the plea, stepped up to the plate
Without ever realising, how much hostility they would face.
Over half a century later it should be quite clear
Our contribution to this society, is equal and fair
Doctors, lawyers, all walks of life
Yet racism is our reward, for our centuries of strife.
Crimes of racism are on the increase
Murderers and bigots roam free on our streets
Democracy and hypocrisy go hand in hand
In our so called civilised, multicultural land.
In the 21st century it’s disheartening to hear
That a minority of bigots can cause so much fear
Black, white or Christian, Muslim or Jew,
The same god who made me, also made you.
The one lesson we could adopt to further world peace
Came when Nelson Mandela, finally gained his release
He rejected all thoughts of, revenge or retribution
All he demanded for his persecution, was peace and reconciliation.
Completed 10th September, 2005