Gerhard Luther Clarkes: Artist. Philosopher. Poet. Father. Born January 14, 1934 in Winnipeg; died of heart failure in Prince Edward Island on May 14, 2022; 88 years old.
Gerard Luther Clarkes, a Renaissance man of the old tradition, went as he had always wished: quickly and without much warning. Up until his last day, he was filled with an incessant urge to filter the world through his consciousness and share what he saw there. Throughout his life he defended his right to think and express himself freely. The result was a gigantic catalog of paintings, poems, essays, musical compositions, screenplays and even a hand-designed and designed house. He was an evangelical atheist who at the same time had a deep sensitivity to a kind of God he couldn’t name.
Gerard grew up as the third of four siblings in the poor and eclectic neighborhood of Winnipeg’s North End during the Great Depression. He fondly recalled the motley freedom of his early years. As a precocious child, he often played gay at school and stuck his head in an adventure novel. His mother, Pauline, had secretly written two novels by candlelight as a teenager in rural Manitoba. Perhaps these were the seeds of his own creative impulse. His natural abilities showed from an early age. At 9, after I was deeply moved by the film Bambi, his school allowed him to paint forest murals in the hallways for two weeks outside of class. As a teenager he attended the Winnipeg School of Art and later earned a degree in art history from the University of Toronto.
Gerard was one of Canada’s most successful painters at the height of his career in the 1960s and 1970s. He has been represented by top galleries and his paintings are in many Canadian collections including the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, the Agnes Etherington Art Center in Kingston and Canadian embassies. He was Director of Art at York University (c. 1965) and Director of the Burnaby Art Gallery (1975).
While living in Toronto, he had two daughters, Pavla and Melissa, from different relationships, then a third daughter, Millefiore, with his wife, Alive magazine editor Rebecca Clarkes.
Gerard had a clear and robust opinion on almost everything, and so Millefiore recalls being teased by her friends as a child because she often began her sentences with “My father says…”. He claims to be a deeply shy person but masks it with an insatiable appetite for conversation. Strangers on a date at the next table might find themselves spending an hour reading a dissertation on the “meaning of value” or “human nature.”
After living in downtown Toronto for three decades and following Rebecca’s death, he moved to rural PEI in 1990 with his daughter Millefiore. There, in an old Victorian farmhouse, on a red country lane, he turned his insatiable energy to composing classical music. a great composition, America is in the collection of the library of the Czech Music Foundation in Prague.
Gerard wrote wise and witty aphorisms daily, he also wrote many volumes of poetry and several screenplays, one of which he turned into a children’s book.
He appeared to be making a new move in his 80s. He began spending his winters in Mexico, where he made friends and started brushing again. He also traveled to Europe, visiting galleries to admire the work of the masters. Though no work of genius was ever beyond his judgment. Above all, he believed in the primacy of his own consciousness and often said: “If I die, the world dies too.”
In Gerard’s final year, the Confederation Center Art Gallery organized a solo retrospective exhibition of his work, published a catalog of his paintings, and held a concert of his compositions, accompanied by a lively (as always) lecture by the artist. Millefiore made a short documentary about him to accompany the exhibition, The Last Renaissance Man.
Millefiore Clarkes is Gerard’s youngest daughter.
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