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Shining light of stained glass Brian Clarke unveils Norwich exhibition

PUBLISHED: 15:24 13 June 2018 | UPDATED: 17:28 13 June 2018

Manhattan and Daffodils by Brian Clarke at the Sainsbury Centre. Photo: Gery Amodio

Manhattan and Daffodils by Brian Clarke at the Sainsbury Centre. Photo: Gery Amodio

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Internationally renowned as the leading light in stained glass, a glorious colourful new exhibition in Norwich of works by artist Brian Clarke sees him continuing to push the boundaries of the centuries-old art form. Simon Parkin reports.

Flowers for Zaha by Brian Clarke part of The Art of Light. Photo: Fraser WatsonFlowers for Zaha by Brian Clarke part of The Art of Light. Photo: Fraser Watson

Brian Clarke is one of the leading lights of the modern reinvention of the centuries-old art of stained glass.

The Oldham-born artist has been responsible for some of the most enduring and radical stained glass windows of the last 40 years, a field in which he is justly celebrated as the greatest artist in the world today.

Brian Clarke The Art of Light at the Sainsbury Centre. Photo: Chris GascoigneBrian Clarke The Art of Light at the Sainsbury Centre. Photo: Chris Gascoigne

Since the early 1970s, he has collaborated with some of the world’s most prominent architects and artists, including Norman Foster and Arata Isozaki - and producing spectacular stained-glass installations for hundreds of projects in Japan, Brazil, the USA and Europe.

Now a new exhibition at the Sainsbury Centre in Norwich is shining a light on his work with a spectacular exhibition across the building.

Detail from World Without End by Brian Clarke. Photo: Chris GascoigneDetail from World Without End by Brian Clarke. Photo: Chris Gascoigne

Though also active in painting, sculpture, mosaics and tapestry, Clarke has consistently pushed the boundaries of stained glass as a medium, both in terms of technology and its poetic potential.

The centrepiece of The Art of Light exhibition will be 30 stained glass screens which the artist has produced over the last three years.

Manhattan by Brian Clarke part of The Art of Light at the Sainsbury Centre. Photo: Matthias KirchbergerManhattan by Brian Clarke part of The Art of Light at the Sainsbury Centre. Photo: Matthias Kirchberger

Renowned for his use of line and colour, Clarke has been interested in the idea of the screen for many years. He said: “I wanted to use natural light instead of synthetic light…the folding screen was an expression of that. They are a new kind of beauty.”

The screens that will debut in the exhibition are considered to represent the most significant artistic and technical breakthrough in the history of this thousand year old medium.

Chill Out by Brian Clarke is on display at The Art of Light at the Sainsbury Centre. Photo: Chris GascoigneChill Out by Brian Clarke is on display at The Art of Light at the Sainsbury Centre. Photo: Chris Gascoigne

Much of the technical virtuosity required to create the screens simply didn’t exist until recently.

The artist said the show marked a “big moment” in stained glass as an artistic medium, as recent technical developments had given artists hitherto unknown freedom.

Wall Street by Brian Clarke part ofThe Art of Light at the Sainbuty Centre. Photo: Matthias KirchbergerWall Street by Brian Clarke part ofThe Art of Light at the Sainbuty Centre. Photo: Matthias Kirchberger

“It hasn’t been until now that we have the glass technology to actually express what was in my mind,” explains the artrist. “It couldn’t have been made before now. We didn’t have the capacity.”

Clarke grew up as a prodigy in a working class Lancastrian family but enjoyed a meteoric rise during the punk years of the late 1970s and eventual global stardom as a stained glass artist, though arguably he is better known overseas than at home.

Fez, Pink by Brian Clarke part of The Art of Light at the Sainsbury Centre. Photo: Christian CuninghameFez, Pink by Brian Clarke part of The Art of Light at the Sainsbury Centre. Photo: Christian Cuninghame

His reputation is based on major installation projects all over the world, including the Pyramid of Peace in Kazakhstan, the Pfizer building in New York, the Holocaust memorial in Darmstadt and the royal mosque at King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh.

He has also done private commissions for Paul McCartney, Zaha Hadid, David Bailey and Norman Foster.

Seville by Brian Clarke part of The Art of Light at the Sainsbury Centre. Photo: Matthias KirchbergerSeville by Brian Clarke part of The Art of Light at the Sainsbury Centre. Photo: Matthias Kirchberger

The screens on show in Norwich range in subjects from tradition stained glass topics like flowers and sunsets through to the images of atomic bomb explosions, skulls and Wall Street stock market data.

But though best known for radically updating and innovating, the exhibition will also showcase some of the artist’s early leaded works.

Grief by Brian Clarke part of The Art of Light at the Sainsbury Centre. Photo: Matthias KirchbergerGrief by Brian Clarke part of The Art of Light at the Sainsbury Centre. Photo: Matthias Kirchberger

“This exhibition demonstrates that stained glass has an authority and potential to deal with every human condition,” he said.

• Brian Clarke: The Art of Light is at Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, Norwich, June 17-October 14, £7 (£6 cons), 01603 593199, scva.ac.uk

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