“If I had yelled to alert them the house was on fire, they would have fled to the street only after correcting my grammar.”
In 1958 Clark Hulings “pulled up stakes,” put his illustration career on ice, and headed for Europe to “teach himself to be an easel painter.” Of course he already had years of training behind him, but he felt strongly that he needed to focus like a laser on shifting his mindset away from work-for-hire narratives, to integrate the many different techniques and ideas already stashed under his belt, absorb many more, and ultimately find his singular way of expressing himself with paint.
Prepare to Launch
Today we can all look at the entirety of his oeuvre, and see clearly that Hulings’ singular voice was there all along, in everything he did. But for him to feel confident to launch into the world of galleries and competitions, he needed a major head-clearing and lots of creating things just to create them. He needed to establish his own independent art practice.
So he got on a plane at Idlewild airport and flew to Germany with his sister, whose husband had just been relocated to Esso’s Hamburg office. Once on the ground, he boarded a train to Florence Italy, where he stayed for almost a year, studying at L’Accademia D’Arte and hiring models on his own. This drawing is of one of those models. “Everything begins with drawing, whether it be the fledgling attempts of an art student or the confident execution of a master painter.”
In Florence, my father lived in a rooming house with a bunch of characters. One older, Jewish lady had been there since 1942, when the proprietress hid her from the Nazis. The war ended, but she stayed — she was already home at that point. Another tenant was a teacher of literature. A few years earlier he had spent months in Sicily, but his Florentine house mates ensured he learned “actual Italian” while living with them. “If I had yelled to alert them the house was on fire, they would have fled to the street only after correcting my grammar.”
An Artist’s Walkabout
Eventually, my father determined he was ready to begin further experiments, to “drop the pencil and the pen…do it with a brush…” So he again pulled up the stakes, bid his friends and taskmasters adio, and headed north for two more years of wandering, painting and studying. What came from this multi-year journey, more than anything, was process: routines, ways of thinking about the work and the subject matter, and the solidification of a personal world view and discipline that stayed with him for the rest of his life, and that we can see in his art.
By the Book
The quotes above are excepted from A Gallery of Paintings by Clark Hulings. The best place to see more drawings like Nude with Headband #4, is in that book, and in his other catalogues such as his 1999 Catalogue and 2007’s Timeless Beauty.