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Early California • American • Contemporary Paintings Gallery

Exhibition P 2 Exhibition P 3 Exhibition P 4 Essay on Clivette Bio/Exhibits







”The spiritual truth of the moving form is a changing mass of light, reflection vibrating color ­­– and life. Now when a form is moving – like a fish, for example – you cannot give the vibration of light on that form by adhering to a line to produce the fish.”  -- Clivette

Painter and vaudevillian Merton Clivette left a body of work that has seen little daylight since the 1930’s. His stunning expressionist paintings have been made available to the public through the diligent efforts of Clivette’s heirs and their restoration team.

Born in Wisconsin in 1868, Clivette grew up in the Wyoming Territory. He left home as a teenager to work as an acrobat in a traveling Wild West show which toured the American Northwest. He honed his talents as a master acrobat, juggler and sleight-of-hand artist into a fine Vaudeville routine. In the late 1880’s, Clivette moved first to Seattle and then to San Francisco, where he landed a job as a quick-sketch artist for a San Francisco newspaper, “The Call”. From 1891 to about 1900 he toured America with his Vaudeville act on the famous Orpheum Circuit. Clivette took his act to Europe and during these trips, the visually astute Clivette absorbed the great art of the European tradition. Clivette returned from these travels a world-wise artist and settled in New York City to paint full time.

Clivette chose to see past “high culture” to popular realist subjects, which aligned him with Ashcan School contemporaries like Robert Henri and The Eight. Clivette’s connection to Henri and other realists is through the use of loose brushwork and traditional use of light and dark contrasts. The “Vamp” series depicts Show Biz women in tawdry guise of Burlesque and is one of Clivette’s signature themes. The technique and candor or these canvases link Clivette to the ashcan artists. The Vamp’s pallid skin, crimson rouged cheeks, and black kohl eyeliner are rendered in thick sumptuous jabs of paint. In contrast to the taunting sexuality of the “Vamp” series, but still in keeping with the spirit of Ashcan realism, Clivette painted many boldly rendered portraits of American Indians. Clivette inevitably diverged from the Ashcan realist aesthetic by painting the human figure with quirky distortions and unruly brushwork more akin to Chaim Soutine. As his art matured he moved further from realism towards expressionism. His late work remained figurative, but became increasingly abstract in its composition and use of shallow space.

Clivette built his expressionist images by placing one confident stroke after another; he dragged and parried the brush over the canvas with an acrobatic sense of timing. In his largest works, gestural marks look as though they were made as a direct result of his body movements. Later New York artists like Franz Kline, can be seen as kindred spirits to Clivette through the use of gestural mark-making as the content of their painting. Clivette, a respected artist, flourished in the New York art scene of the 1920’s. His historical standing and artistic integrity rank him as an American Expressionist of originality and distinction. j

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