Pete Clarke
All images copyright of the artist.


Project 12 : Collaboration Pete Clarke and Georg Gartz

Conversations in Colours

Sometimes a painter discovers in the pictures of another artist a surprising proxi¬mity to his own work. Maybe it is the colours, maybe the way in which the brush is used. Maybe it is the mysterious harmony of the many small parts that make up the whole. Or even all of these things together. At the same time this feeling of proximity is combined with the awareness of dissonance within the similarities; this ounce of uniqueness which distinguishes the handwriting of one painter from the next and makes it unmistakably individual.

Fifties Cathedral
(Acrylic on canvas,100 x 100 cm, Oct. 1999)

But what happens when two such related painterly styles come together: on one canvas, in one picture? This does not happen often, for after all art is generally an individualist enterprise and artists independently minded as most of them are avoid collaboration in joint pictorial projects. Possibly this is because they feel worried that they themselves would disappear in the process and cease to be the person who they are only through their art. Possibly, however, the main reason is that they have not learned that artistic collaboration involves more than conversa¬tion with oneself but rather also a dialogue with another person. Since the Enlightenment art has been presented time and again as a lonely, often tragic adventure, full of freedom and individualism, without compromise, often hermetic and incomprehensible. This idea defines the myth of art to the present day. Most artists seemingly put far more emphasis on their individuality than on the subject and content of their work. Increasingly the individuality of artistic handwriting became the core issue of art and since then every artistic statement that could cause this individuality to diminish, has been avoided as a place of great danger.

But why should the brush strokes of two artists not touch each other like the fingers of a hand? And does it not suggest itself that painters too, should occasio¬nally work jointly like lone athletes who occasionally invest their individual skills in a team effort and thus let their individual strengths and weaknesses appear in a wholly different light. (Many artists are even opposed to such metaphors.) For this one needs two quiet reserved characters who are prepared to let another person make use of their own colours and forms. They have to be open and relaxed souls, full of trust that in the exchange with the other their own work can be altered but not destroyed. And they have to possess the curiosity that makes them want to see their own colours and artistic gestures in an unexpected manifestation. All this is true for Georg Gartz and Pete Clarke who met each other three years ago.

Yellow Cathedral
(Acrylic on canvas,100 x 100 cm, Oct. 1999)

Before Pete Clarke showed some of his pictures in an exhibition in the Lichthof in Cologne, Georg Gartz had already seen them in his Liverpool studio. And for his part Pete Clarke got to know the paintings of the Cologne artist Georg Gartz in his studio before he showed his works in the Basement Gallery in Liverpool. The exhi¬bitions were part of a lively exchange between artists from Cologne and Liverpool which has been going on for some time between the two cities. One reason for this exchange is that despite the idea of European union people in the Northwest of England and those in the West German Rhineland actually still know (too) little of each other. Is modern art, which after all has been recognised as an international language, the same in both regions?
Have individual experiences of painting the same foundation in both areas? And does the love of colour possibly transcend all influences of society by touching sentiments which are the same all over Europe?
Georg Gartz and Pete Clarke told themselves that here was an issue which was ripe for discussion in painting. Thus they started to exchange their experiences on canvas.

What is important is that the joint works of Pete Clarke and Georg Gartz do not just represent the sum of two approaches but that a new third conception has emerged which is more than the sum of its parts. The painters leave enough room for each other on the canvas to let a dialogue of colours, shapes and pictorial gestures arise. One painter starts it all; with a colour, with a undefined outline and the other continues it. For the time being each one leaves untouched what the other has painted. At first the transformation happens by means of addition so that the picture becomes increasingly dense; the change happens through a gradual process of growth. They work very carefully in order to avoid destroying and erasing the other's brush strokes, even if this cannot be completely avoided. The canvas is not understood as a battlefield but as a zone of deliberate and careful understanding. Out of a trickle of colour arises the outline of bridge. An alarming red is soothed by its surroundings. A box like shape protrudes from the colour like a persistent signpost and many fluid traces come together to form a resting structure.

Magenta and Yellow Facade
(Acrylic on canvas, 50 x 50 cm, March 2000)

Pete and Georg always work on more than one picture at the same time. After they have swapped and continued their pictures several times without comment they finally start a verbal dialogue. The talking is part of the collaborative creative pro¬cess. They talk about how they should proceed or if they should add something here or cover something there. Each has different ideas and experiences as to which colours work as a harmonic whole. Especially the drawings (which appear harder edged than the works on canvas because the paper does not soak up the colour) show that the painting is also a matter of opposing dynamics: a layering, and extinguishing of colours and marks which the other has previously placed. One painter gets into cul de sacs and dead ends with his colours and the other will once more set in motion or simply see something different. In any case crea¬ting harmony is a difficult process.

Does one painter question the other? Does his addition extend the possibilities available to the other? What does it mean to question and to assert ones personal creative impulse in the process of exchange? What does it mean to accommodate? In this way the creative process becomes a model of a dialogue of equals. Colours are placed into space, tentatively or boldly, carefully or distinctly, slightly questio¬ningly or as A confident statement and always begging further comment. The objective is to react to a painted comment: to dovetail or to contrast. One artist picks up the colours of the other and adds his own colours. Colours approximate each other, resist each other, confront each other as strangers and challenge each other. They embrace each other and illuminate each other, stick to another, rub against each other or appease each other. They hover or mingle in dense crowds.

Layered Like glass.
(Acrylic on canvas, 50 x 50 cm, March 2000)

They appear as whisks or as organic scatterings, as a trickle, the impression of a material, a splash or a geometric shape. Innumerable abstract fragments interlock to form an insoluble unit and the balance of colours comes to represent the balan¬ce of life as a whole. There are countless possibilities of losing and re finding one¬self in the colours. Only the creations of one painter make it possible for the other to arrive at his own creations. The painted reactions alternately become barriers and complements, forces of resistance and brackets. Thus it all adds up.

Indeed, most of the pictures by Georg Gartz and Pete Clarke have a motif that in many cases has been rendered unrecognisable. In some paintings an architectural shape sticks out such as the outline of a church, a tower, a high rise block. The other canvases appear abstract images of turmoil that have found their balance in a state of anonymous dynamism, in the tension of opposites, as a harmony of differences. The results are pictures of manifold permeation in which the contribu¬tion of each painter has been blurred. Often the artists themselves have difficulty retracing their steps. This experience is as much part of artistic contact as of every other type of communication.

SmallKoln Paintingl.
(Acrylic on canvas, 30 x 40 cm, Oct 1999)

Georg Gartz and Pete Clarke never paint simultaneously on one canvas but they always take turns. They also work on more than one canvas at the same time. One begins to talk, the other replies, then again the first and so on. Each according to his own abilities, his own ideas, each against the background of his long standing experience as an artist. The paradox: the process causes the characteristics of the painters individual hand writing to change and to disappear in a larger whole.

Clarke, whose paintings are often characterised by figurative elements, fragments of writing and architecture, even flower motifs, plunges into Gartzs freely abstract colouring and is led to greater abstraction in his own use of colour. Gartz, on the other hand, who has long banned figurative elements from his painting, is led by Clarke to the edge of figurative depiction. The greatest artistic achievement in every picture is its balance and that is achieved when neither of the two artists wants to add any more touches of colour. Indeed they manage to integrate their in¬dividual artistic handwriting into one joint work and thus to subsume it in the whole for a moment. This points to an exemplary concept: to use individual experiences and possibilities in such a way that a common experience is created and this rela¬tivises the myth of (artistic) individuality to a significant extent.

A new artistic category is introduced: artistic creation functions as a bridge to active mutual understanding. Painting as a coming together through colours. Probably it is no coincidence that both artists also work as art educators: Pete Clarke as Senior Lecturer in Painting at the University of Central Lancashire and Georg Gartz as Museum Education Officer at the Museum Ludwig in Cologne. It is characteristic of both that they do not separate their educational artwork from their painting but regards it as an experience that their painting also benefits from.

Naturally, it did not all come together harmonically right from the start. Artistic colla¬boration is a matter of achieving a finely tuned balance. In the first joint works it was sometimes still the case that one painter dominated the picture, not on purpose but still unmistakably visible (maybe because one painted a touch more boldly, maybe because one was more careful). Ideal balance was only achieved after the second or third painting session, especially because both artists possess the rare gift of measured self restraint. Their painting is marked by reciprocal empathy not by competition.

Both have reliable intuition when it comes to harmonising colours even if they represent disjunctures and contrasts. Both are seeking the orchestration of many smaller elements in a coherent whole rather than allowing one expression to dominate. And neither is interested in posting obvious messages but in the quiet yet exciting subtlety of a process of painting in which the opaqueness of our experience gives rise to poetic feeling. Joint painting of this kind is an open, intentionless dialogue. It is the art of being sensitive, curious (that is, hungry to experience the new) and without hidden agendas as attentive to ones own emotions as to those of the other.

Of course, Georg Gartz and Pete Clarke are not the first artists who have painted pictures together. In the 1980s Andy Warhol and Jean Michel Basquiat worked on several large scale canvases in which Basquiat's brattishness enlivened Warhols tired art stencils in an unexpected way. Several decades ago Dieter Roth and Stefan Wewerka created wildly animated joint works out of the mood of their meetings. The Fluxus artists in their most radical period in the middle of the rebel¬lious sixties were also very keen on the collaborative art project. And the so called Young Wild Ones, painters of the 1980s such as Walter Dahn and un Dokoupil occasionally collaborated in a painting in order to satiate their hunger for pictures. And then there is the group of painters who only ever appear in public as a couple but that is yet another story.

The fact that Georg Gartz and Pete Clarke come from different countries only makes their common artistic project even more compelling. It is not the fashionable Crossover that is introduced but the ideal of a synthesis in which the question after the difference is no longer important. They have found a way of collaborating that has long been employed in the sessions of Jazz and Blues musicians. Against the background of a common sound environment and on the basis of a shared motif musicians of the most varied cultural circles develop an individual style, improvising with great enjoyment, in order to then integrate their individual conception into the larger body of music. Both artists like Jazz. And the fact that they listen to music while they paint confirms that in their art they put more emphasis on the right rhythm than on theoretical concepts.

Jurgen Kisters
Köln Hdhenhaus, March 2000
(Translation: Dr. Christina Thomson)


We first thougt it would be fun and interesting to collaborate together on a painting project during 'Eight Days a Week' in Cologne 1998. Since then we have been working together like two jazz musicians in a creative dialogue revisiting ideas about authorship, spontaneity and authenticity in contemporary painting.

We are excited by the work we have made, but it would never have happened without the encouragement and support of many people, institutions and friends.
We would especially like to thank, Jurgen Kisters, Bryan Biggs and 'Eight days a Week.