I generally respect people who demonstrate an independent line of opinion which they don’t mind voicing even though it toronto painters may have costly repercussions. Paraskeva Clark was such a person and an outstanding Canadian artist who stood by her own convictions and was never frightened of voicing her opinion regardless of the cost.
Paraskeva was widely recognised as an outspoken member among the Toronto community of painters, a post group of seven generation who created a socially conscious modernist artistic movement during a time of economic depression and political crisis. The Toronto community of painters had no manifesto or defined terms for membership and ran from 1933 to 1950.
Paraskeva Clark’s background
Paraskeva Plistik was born in St. Petersburg in 1898 to a poor working-class family while growing up she had a keen interest in the visual arts which was a staple in the Russian education system. After school she continued her artistic education at the Petrograd Academy where she took evening classes, while working days in a local shoe works. From 1918 to 1921 she studied at the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts under a number of prominent painters such as Vasily Shukhayev and Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin a keen follower of the post-impressionist painter Cézanne a painter who Paraskeva came to equally admire.
After her instruction she got a job at the Mali Theatre in Leningrad doing theatre decoration and it was here that she met her first husband Oreste Allegre, who was the son of an Italian stage designer and artist. Together they were very much in love and soon had a baby son; unfortunately less than a year after their marriage Allegri was killed in a drowning accident. Devastated Paraskeva bravely soldiered on and decided in the autumn of 1923 to go and live with her father-in-law in Paris. On arriving in Paris she managed to get employment as a saleswoman in an art gallery where she worked mainly during the days.
I couldn’t find much evidence of works that Paraskeva might have painted in Paris which was surprising being such an inspirational city. I suppose it must have been a very difficult time for her moving to a new country just having lost her husband. Money must have been tight for her supporting a child alone leaving little time for her work.
During her days at the art Gallery she met a man named Philip Clark a Canadian studying in Paris, they fell in love and married in London. Soon after their marriage they decided to move to Toronto and it was here that Paraskeva was able to take up painting again.
When Paraskeva arrived in Toronto she was very surprised at how quiet the artistic scene was compared to Europe and how difficult it was to get her paintings exhibited. She found that the artistic establishment was very conservative with one foot still in the past waving off new European artistic movements such as Impressionism. However the majority of the Toronto establishment did rate a European educationand the old traditions and therefore were mainly interested in European art. Also being a woman presented Paraskeva with extra challenges in a male dominated artistic establishment.
I must say however reading about Paraskeva I can imagine that she would have thrived in this type of environment. I can imagine her as a person who would love sticking it to these upper-class elitist types thriving on the adversity and enjoying being controversial.
In Toronto Paraskeva was very vocal about the displeasure she felt for the type of art that was being produced in Toronto at the time. In a radio interview she described the atmosphere in Toronto to be dead and lifeless. She felt that Canadian art had to focus more on the people and current events rather than its wilderness, a subject that was covered extensively with the previous work of the Group of Seven. Paraskeva disliked the ultra-nationalist sentiment that came with the Group of Seven and felt that art in Canada needed to take a new direction taking inspiration from European modernism.
Paraskeva Clark wrote “In our overgrown ‘pioneering’ delight in our wilderness, we neglected the study of the pioneer, of the man. And we must not continue this sad mistake…. (Art) will have to be useful, clear-human above all,”