A ‘Beautiful Interruption’

Artist and gallerist Karin Clarke adapts to social distancing

Karin Clarke’s ‘Depoe Bay’

When I called Karin Clarke to suggest we switch from the in-person meeting we had planned to a phone interview, we were in that very short period of time as COVID-19 was hitting and when people weren’t overly concerned about meeting face to face.

Now, more than a month later, we’re living in a different world. Due to the coronavirus, social distancing dictates behavior. People are staying home unless their work entails essential business.

Is art essential?  

You might get a different answer on that depending on whom you speak with. Strictly speaking, perhaps art is not an essential like food or toilet paper. Clarke said she thought seeing art online could be a “beautiful interruption” from the stream of bad news endlessly available on our digital devices.

Citing the Italian opera singer Maurizio Marchini, whose balcony performance in quarantined Florence was shared on social media, she says sharing information about artists online could be seen in a similar light.

She is proud of the Oregon Landscapes exhibit on display through May 30 in her gallery, even if it is currently only available to see in person by appointment. The group show includes work by her parents, Mark Clarke (1935-2016) and Margaret Coe, her mentor James Kroner and her exhibit designer Craig Spilman.

A painter herself, Clarke had a trip planned to France this spring for an artist’s residency and to study art. 

Then the coronavirus came to Oregon. She knew she’d have to close the doors to her gallery when her husband, Michael Johns, a division manager with Lane County who works with emergency management, told her staying open would not be an option.

Speaking on the phone from her gallery, she told me downtown Eugene, where her business is located, is empty.

But the show will go on — online, that is. 

Clarke has long wanted to enhance her social media sites but was busy with other work in the gallery. Isolated at home, she now has time to go to work on her business’ virtual presence. So far she’s considered spotlighting different artists, live streaming and posting artist’s videos. A link to a video walk-through with Clarke produced by Lane Arts Council and a video by one of the show’s participating artists, Robert Gamblin, are on the Karin Clarke Gallery website.   

An hour before I spoke with Clarke she was in her gallery handing off a work of art to a client — risky business in the time of the virus. The client had bought it during the Oregon Landscapes opening. 

Art has always been a part of Clarke’s life. In college she studied drawing, painting and graphic design as well as printmaking, exploring all her options. She knew she wanted her career to be connected to art but wasn’t sure how. Growing up with artists as parents, she says, was inspiring. It was also greatly intimidating.

All along though, there was a family dream of opening an art gallery.

After taking a workshop with Kroner in Italy, the dream became a reality. She came home inspired and in 2002, after she returned from Europe, opened the Karin Clarke Gallery.

Eighteen years later, she is planning to do business throughout the pandemic — and possibly beyond — by tailoring her in-person strategies to her gallery’s website, Instagram and Facebook page.

Clarke debated whether to include her own paintings. 

“It was not an easy decision to make.” 

The inclusion of her art reflects that she has a studio now and is finally putting in the time it takes to be an artist. Owning a gallery was the dream. Making art, she says, “feels like home.”

To make an appointment to see Oregon Landscapes call the gallery at 541-684-7963 or send a message through the contact page at KarinClarkeGallery.com. You can also find links to the two videos related to the show at the gallery site. The show is up through May 30.