Art was not just about drawing and painting, but it was a way of life for Master Artist LeRoy Clarke, who with every stroke of his brush told the stories of love, struggle, triumph, at times war, and the rich cultural heritage of his African ancestry.
But yesterday at 6 am, the native of Gonzales, Belmont, left the canvas behind when he passed away at his Cascade home – The Legacy House.
While Clarke 82 had been ailing for a long time and close friends even disclosed he was battling dementia, his passing was still a difficult pill to swallow for the entire country.
Describing him as a true representation of the skill in Trinidad and Tobago, jeweller-artist Barbara Jardine, who has long been a fan of Clarke’s work, told Guardian Media, while Clarke will now sleep with his ancestors, his legacy will live on.
“He has left the most remarkable body of work for us to remember him by. He was one of the great kings of the art world,” she said.
Close friend and fellow artist, Makemba Kunle said Clarke was an artist who blazed his own trail and created his own opportunities.
“He strived to be the best he could be and he worked real hard at it. He never looked for a break…he made his own breaks and he took responsibility for his life and for his career,” Kunle recalled of his colleague.
He said he is only comforted knowing Clarke achieved his goal.
“Above all, he wanted to leave a legacy for arts and for culture for the people here and I think he did it.”
For his lifetime of work and contribution to art in Trinidad and Tobago, Clarke was the recipient of several awards and was also bestowed several titles. Among them, the National Living Treasure from Trinidad Hilton and Conference Center. He was also the first local artist to be vested with the title “Master Artist” by the National Museum of T&T, the recipient of an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT) and in 2003 he was officially proclaimed by the Government of T&T, a ‘national icon.’
Planning and cultural heritage consultant, Jalaludin Khan, who as a designer, studied Clarke’s work for years, said the former lead vocalist of the 1950s to 1960’s group, The Beamers, was not only an accomplished independent artist, but his work was second to none.
“You can’t fight LeRoy Clarke. In the history of Caribbean art, as his technical skills… you know, that is what separates him from the rest,” said Khan.
Noting Clarke also called “Chief,” was a man he looked up to, Khan added, “His dialogue with his visual symbolism and messaging was one of the many powerful things about LeRoy Clarke.”
Khan’s assessment of Clarke’s gift was on point, as the former teacher, lecturer, and Orisha leader once said in an interview, “I don’t look at painting only from a visual standpoint. I think of it as psychological. We are talking about becoming persons in motion.”
As an anti-colonialist activist, Clarke who also began his professional writing in his early 20s was often described as the “controversial artist” because of his intricate yet blunt expressions on the canvas that often spoke to societal and cultural taboo subjects.
In the 1970’s he dedicated his life to producing a course of work famously known as The Poet—a compilation of his best in writing, drawing, and painting, all encapsulating his journey, growth, and development as an artist.
His last major exhibition in 2015, was captured by Guardian Media. At that exhibition, the artist extraordinaire showcased 105 pieces from the collection titled: Eye Hayti Cries Everywhere—an exhibition he dedicated to the people of Haiti.
In paying tribute to the creative genius Minister of Tourism, Culture and the Arts, Randall Mitchell, described Clarke’s passing as the loss of one of T&T’s finest artists—a man the country remains indebted to, for his contribution.
Opposition leader, Kamla Persad-Bissessar paid her respects to Clarke, saying via a statement that Clarke belonged to that rare group of gifted Trinidad and Tobago intellectuals who proved the greatest even in the genre of art could come out of the third world and be on par with artists from the world’s upper echelons.
“Mr Clarke may be gone but his revolution lives on. His masterful legacy will continue to inspire generations to come,” Persad-Bissessar said.