Leigh Clarke

Profile image of Senior Lecturer in Printmaking and Illustration on BA (Hons) Illustration and Visual Media

Senior Lecturer in Printmaking and Illustration on BA (Hons) Illustration and Visual Media

London College of Communication

Biography

Leigh Clarke is engaged in an alternative, multidisciplinary print practice that employs mass manufactured objects or mass disseminated text to make singular political statements. His concern with public engagement and non-conventional printmaking has led him to curate and exhibit in many public and private art galleries and project spaces internationally.

In 2012 he was selected for the London Open at the Whitechapel Gallery where he exhibited 30 plaster casts on scaffold poles of the negative spaces within political latex fancy dress masks. In 2014 he took part in a major residency project in Stoke-on-Trent entitled Ex-Factory hosted by Airspace Gallery and funded by the Arts Council England and the Esme Fairbairn Foundation. In 2015 he was commissioned by Create London to work with young people in Newham and generate alternative guides for the River Lea in the East End of London.

His work surrounding autobiographies has led to three solo projects at CRATE Project Space Margate, Kusseneers Gallery, Brussels and Airspace in Stoke-on-Trent. Clarke is Printmaking Tutor at the Royal Academy Schools and has represented LCC in two major International Printmaking Workshops at the Xi’an Academy of Fine Art in China and the Elam School of Art and Design, University of Auckland, New Zealand. In 2015 he was awarded a UAL Teaching Award for his work in the Design School at the London College of Communication.

Research interests

Political interventions within an alternative printmaking practice, particularly through experimental print, performance, curating and teaching.

Research statement

Leigh Clarke employs print media to tackle political subjects through a cross-fertilization of satire and reprographics. His initial training as an artist began in printmaking alongside a potential career as a stand up comedian, creating the foundations of his practice today. His work relies heavily on the multiple, humour and the dismantling of political, corporate or media led propaganda through experimental print and performance. Previous projects have researched the Michael Jackson court case in relation to the War on Iraq; the use of scare mongering media tactics of the local newspaper in Hackney; the denial of child abuse within the Catholic Church by the Pope and the connection of the Gill Sans typeface to the Yew Tree enquires. 

The title A Higher Cannibalism is borrowed from Rudyard Kipling, who used the term to describe the process of psychoanalysis. For this project in 2015, Clarke collected over 1000 popular second hand autobiographies that he dissected and altered to make digital prints, etchings, screenprints and collages. The collection and combination of the spines confronted the viewer with a visual registry of role models that shape contemporary Britain society and question the consumption of popular autobiographies in times of austerity. Clarke played with the scale of the book spines to measure the importance of celebrity and who is worthy or unworthy of an autobiography. In his method of appropriation, he treated each autobiography spine equally with paint and printing ink, resulting in monochromatic picture plains that removed hierarchies and status. The first exhibition was perfectly located in the CRATE project space, which was an old print works in the centre of Margate. The project continued at Kusseneers Gallery, Brussels.

In 2014, Clarke was selected for the residency project entitled Ex-Factory, hosted by Airspace Gallery in Stoke-on-Trent and funded by ACE and the Esme Fairbairn Foundation. His research in to the Bossons factory in Congleton near Stoke-on-Trent has led him to generate works for three rooms. From 1946 – 1996, the Bossons factory mass manufactured chalkware, hyper-real busts that depicted stereotypical men and women from all over the world. Clarke has paid particular attention to the most common and popular of the busts, namely the Syrian.

Clarke was interested in the collectability and acceptance of the bust to a British post-war working class and how, after years of wars, economic corruption and terror campaigns; images of people from these cultures has been demonised through the British media. During the residency, the humanitarian crisis in Syria led to the mass migration of civilians and in response to this, Clarke collected Bossons Syrian heads from the Internet that he stripped back to the chalk beneath the facial detailing. Clarke has screenprinted the defaced Syrian on 24, 5-metre lengths of red book binding paper. The object appears with other Bossons characters in a defunct storage room and again in an office in the form of 24 of the original defaced busts.

In 2012, Clarke was selected as one of 35 artists from over 1800 applicants for the London Open 2012 at the Whitechapel Gallery. His research into latex, political masks led him to install 35 inverted casts on scaffold poles of international political figures that included the Ayatollah Khomeini, Fidel Castro, Nicolas Sarcozy and Hilary Clinton. Through a process casting builders plaster into the outside surface of the mask, the resulting bust contradicted the original, humorous function of the object and revealed a much darker political portrait.  Clarke was interested in gathering the masks in a public space during the London Olympics and Heads of State communicated to wide international audience during the summer of 2012.

As part of the exhibition, Clarke was invited by the Whitechapel to lead an interactive Family Day and responded to the casting process of Heads of State and the newly installed Rachel Whiteread installation on the front of the building. He ordered one ton of play sand that filled a learning environment in the building where parents and children could make mouldings from containers found in the local area. He also led a day with teenagers where they made political puppet shows in response to his work in the exhibition.

Selected research outputs