Thursday, February 6, 2014
Russian-born artist Paraskeva Clark 1898-1986 paints Canadian women at work
She was born Paraskeva Plistik in St. Petersburg, Russia to grocery store owner Avdey Plistik. Her mother, Olga Fedorevna Plistik, was an expert in the old Russian folk art of artificial flower-making. After graduation in 1914, Paraskeva worked at a shoe store during the day & took art classes at the Petrograd Academy of Fine Arts in the evening. Two years later, she was able to afford private lessons with Savely Seidenberg, a landscape painter. During those years, Russia was in political & economic turmoil. In the Russian Revolution of 1917, one of the country’s famous art academies became the Free Studios. Paraskeva attended without tuition fees from 1918 to 1921, gaining a firm education in the intricacies of fine art.
Hired to paint theatre sets in 1922, Paraskeva met & married scene painter Oreste Allegri Jr. Their son Benjamin was born the next year. The family was about to move to Paris, France when tragedy interfered – Paraskeva’s husband Oreste drowned. The newly widowed young mother moved to Paris in the fall, joining her in-laws there. Paraskeva worked in her in-laws’ home & in a Paris interior design store, where she met her future husband in 1929. Married in London in June 1931, Canadian accountant Philip Clark took his bride & her son, Ben, to Toronto, Canada.
Canadian artists were friends of Paraskeva’s new husband. Meeting several members of the Group of Seven and other artistic lights, Paraskeva was inspired to paint again. Her first entry in a showing was a small self-portrait, displayed at the Art Gallery of Toronto in the Royal Canadian Academy’s annual exhibit in November 1932. The next year, while pregnant with her second child, Paraskeva painted “Myself,” a boldly dramatic oil just as the Clarks welcomed their new son, Clive, in June 1933. Invited to join the Canadian Group of Painters (evolved from the Group of Seven, noted Collections Canada), Paraskeva exhibited her varied paintings in oils & watercolours with the group for nearly 30 years.
Paraskeva held strong political views that emanated from her paintings. Painted in 1937, “Petroushka” became one of her most famous politically-opinionated paintings, created after Chicago police killed five steelworkers on strike. World War Two drew Paraskeva’s attention, causing her great concern for her homeland of Russia & for Canadian-Russian relations. In 1944, she was commissioned to paint the activities of the Royal Canadian Air Force Women’s Division at Trenton, Ontario. Paraskeva painted “Parachute Riggers” (1947), “Maintenance Jobs at the Hangar,” representing women during WW II.
At the end of her long Paraskeva Clark stated,“I would like to stop every woman from painting, for only men can truly succeed," Paraskeva said, adding, The majority of women who have really succeeded have not married or had children, but I don't envy them." The "natural duties" of family - husband, children and other responsibilities - made it nearly impossible for women to immerse themselves in artistic lives, thought Paraskeva, so much so that they cannot truly gather that great volume of creative effort needed for truly great works of art."