“Street in Naples is no less human for the absence of particular melodrama and tragedy.”
Our writer-in-residence James D. Balestrieri is offering us a preview of his chapter Body and Soul. It’s an interesting moment to think about transitions: how Hulings came of age as a painter, and the emergence of his mature themes of work, community, and home.
We tend to focus on an artist’s major works, but sometimes a less familiar piece opens a pathway into the artist’s ideas, practice, and oeuvre. Clark Hulings’s Street in Naples, painted in 1968, alongside a 1960 watercolor of the same street, sheds light on the artist’s transition from illustration to easel painting. In the 1960 watercolor, a human narrative takes precedence in a composition reminiscent of a paperback mystery cover or an Italian Neo-Realist film poster. By 1968, Hulings’s key themes as a mature artist emerge in Street in Naples: pattern and design preceding narrative realism; puzzle pieces in a mosaic and the sense of the constructed; continuity and change in community; humility and the beauty of home; the quiet dignity of work. Hulings wrote of Street in Naples: “The laundry hanging from these city tenements made such a fascinating pattern that I decided to treat my painting as an abstraction which would stand by itself as a good design whether held upside down or sideways. Realism wasn’t important.”
Street in Naples is no less human for the absence of particular melodrama and tragedy; indeed it comes across as more human, mirroring that all-embracing humanity we see implied in the shirt on the clothesline—the hands that wring the laundry, the feet that have walked this way since the laying of the cobblestones long, long ago.