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JOE CLARENCE

[First published in a photocopied version to accompany an exhibition of Joe Clarence's drawings at the Anna Leonowens Gallery 1, October 4-11, 1982, then revised for publication in Toronto's Public magazine, issue 21, 2000-2001, 72-77 as "1973-1974 Drawings by Joe Clarence."]

Joe Clarence made these drawings at informal art classes I held in 1973-4 at Clifton Boy's Home in Jamaica. Joe was a little older than the other boys, perhaps sixteen. He was an illiterate, shy epileptic who had been kept out of school. Joe had a profound stutter. He was obsessed with drawing, putting stubby pencil points to any scrap of paper he could find.

Joe's drawings were what I thought "primitive" art looked like. Other Clifton boys drew like adolescents everywhere, but the schematic, graphic qualities of Joe's work reminded me of Australian Aboriginal art and Paul Klee. Trained artists such as A. R. Penck and innumerable "outsider" artists, such as the folk artists of Nova Scotia, have since come to mind.

Of course, my attraction to these drawings was as suspect as my colonizing presence in Jamaica as an eighteen year old Canadian volunteer. Nevertheless, I have no regrets and offer no apologies for being a young dogooder, or for loving this art.

I showed Joe's work instead of my own as my graduating exhibition at the Nova Scotia College of Art & Design in 1982. This show reconciled (for me, at least) the early 1980s opposition between "neo-expressionist" painting and "appropriation art." (Several people thought wrongly that I had made Joe's work myself. I even had trouble some convincing people that I had ever been to Jamaica.)

I gave most of the drawings away after the show. On the back I pencilled in Joe Clarence's address: C/O Clifton Boys' Home, Darliston, Westmoreland, Jamaica, WI.
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