Chris Clark’s mournful icons at Proximity

Willow Street.JPG
Chris Clark, Willow Street, from his show at Proximity Gallery.

Chris Clark‘s show of paintings and works on paper at the new boutique/gallery Proximity in Fishtown almost sold out at the opening. The heavily-layered and lovingly-worked paintings on wood and paper with eco and political (anti-war) themes and dark, mysterious backgrounds are great to look at.  And the works are no-nonsense priced to move ($200-400 range).   Who bought?  People from the neighborhood bought the work, said Clark and Proximity’s owner, Janel Frey.  It wasn’t just friends and family.

Chris Clark, Janel Frey at Proximity Gallery
Clark and Proximity Gallery owner, Janel Frey in the lovely corner space with hardwood floors, generous windows and nice high ceilings.


Clark’s gold- and silver-hued iconic objects (an oil well, a helicopter, a cell phone tower) set against backgrounds of dark ornate patterning register Clark’s obsession with themes we all worry about.  The objects could be anywhere, and the complex backgrounds suggestive of Islamic screens or patterned wallpaper set them out of time as well as out of place.   The atmosphere is Mad Maxian — depopulated outposts after or before a global dark night of the soul. Sigmar Polke‘s watchtower paintings come to mind.

Chris Clark
Heart of Gold.

Clark’s a materials guy. He’s put many of his paintings on thick slabs of wood so they stand out from the wall like little jewels. Some pieces have 20 layers of imagery said the Kutztown grad (2000) who’s having his first show in 7 years. And among the techniques he uses are spray paint and stencils, collage–and sewing. Some works, like Willow Street, have a stitched border attachment. (The artist bought a sewing machine and taught himself to sew after seeing a friend wield her hand at a machine and thinking it looked easy enough.)

Passage. Screen Printed ink on paper. 9x9"  That's the Ben Franklin Bridge.
Passage. Screen Printed ink on paper. 9×9″  That’s the Ben Franklin Bridge.

Proximity, a corner spot in a residential neighborhood in Fishtown is a labor of love by Frey, a UArts grad (2002 -printmaking), who lives in the neighborhood with her husband and two small children. She told me her father built the gallery’s entry doors — wooden double doors beautifully finished. Her boutique/gallery business plan is cut from the same cloth as Bambi, Cerulean, Art Star and Mew – a neighborhood spot for art and crafts with ambition to move things into people’s homes and become a must-see venue and a player in the art scene. Frey hopes to have workshops for children under 10 in the space.  Soon, she said.

Clark (who lives up the block from Proximity) and Frey told me they hoped to be part of a new Fishtown art boom. Galleries and boutiques nearby include Bambi and Highwire on Frankford Ave and then there are the arty cafes Rocket Cat Cafe and Random Tea Room, all roughly within walking distance of each other. They mentioned the big warehouse building at 2424 York which is renting artist’s studio space and may ultimately include an art gallery.

Meanwhile, Clark’s work will be included in a group show in December at yet another new Philadelphia gallery, T&P Fine Art, which opens on South Street in November.


Chris Clark
til Oct. 31
2434 East Dauphin Street
Philadelphia, PA 19125
Contact Janel Frey @ 267.825.2949