Clark's work in the capital building
Carving Out A Passion
Dana Clark sold his first sculpture his senior year of high school to the Paper Mills Playhouse in Millburn, NJ. “My parents were having a moving sale, and the Playhouse bought it as a prop.” The piece looked like a not-quite-finished Paladin, a chess piece; he carved this sculpture after abruptly transferring from drafting class, which “I got straight A’s since 7th grade, and 20 years later I heard the drafting teacher was still showing my work as an example of how it’s done properly.” But by senior year it was time to put down his pencil and transfer to art.
Clark chose sculpting over painting, as he had done some carving before: following an accident that left him in a month-long coma just before 7th grade, Clark’s parents gave him a block of balsa wood and an Exacto knife. He carved balls inside of cubes, interlocking chains—puzzles that speak to his attraction to the drawings of MC Esher and geometry.
“I’ve always been fascinated with angles, circles, and pairing them together,” Clark says. Over his career his sculptures have become more refined, but continue to present themselves as puzzles, unexpected reconfigurations of the human form.
His figurative work has always been sensual, beginning in the 1970s. After moving on from art school at the University of Southern Florida, he opened a bookstore in an old gas station just four blocks west of Busch Gardens in Tampa. He sold art books, science fiction, philosophy, books on astrology and anarchy, comics, and at one point gasoline. He began attending classes at a pottery studio, and soon was offered a side-job of creating hanging sculptures portraying poses from the kama sutra temple. Clark said jokingly, “I guess I’ve been in the figurative art business for ages!”
Although at that time there were no bookstores in North Tampa, Clark admits he didn’t have the discipline to run a bookstore. After moving the shop to a smaller location on Fletcher Ave. and selling it, he moved in with his parents in their home in Casey Key, and worked at his father’s CPA firm. He began taking art classes at Manatee Junior College. He meant his pieces to be humorous, surreal, and they were sexual. “One classmate said they were the most disgusting thing she’d ever seen,” Clark said, but then the teacher asked him some of her drawings for one of his pieces.
At one point a sculpture he made was shown as part of a state-wide student show in the top floor of the capital building in Tallahassee. That piece now resides in his wife Jane’s office, the dining room of Clark’s Sarasota home.
Finding His Medium
By the 90s, Clark was doing carved pieces from mahogany, mostly at Jane’s suggestion to give as gifts. An acquaintance suggested he check out a wood carving group that met at a new sculpture gallery located just north of downtown on 41. It was an eclectic outdoor sculpture collection, now known as the Marietta Museum of Whimsy. The leader of the group worked in the scenic design studio of Feld Entertainment, and told Clark that they were hiring.
In the mid-nineties, when Clark began working for Feld, they had begun increased production for the Disney on Ice shows. “We worked, 10 hour days, 6 days a week, overtime for over 2 years then,” Clark remembers. He learned to use thick sheets of surgical foam they called Disney Foam to build set pieces, welding, “skinning” the aluminum and steel frames of floats with plywood, and often sculpting individual props for the ice shows and Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus.
This two-year period of non-stop work came to a sudden halt, and then, Clark says, “We just cleaned the shop for two months. After a point we were able to start building our own things.” Using leftover pieces of curved aluminum and Disney foam Dana began to develop a style of sculpture that would become his current body of work, coating aluminum and wood frames in a variety of materials to create surreal, futuristic, figurative sculptures.
Clark currently lives in Sarasota where he sculpts in his backyard studio and shows his work at Art Uptown Gallery on Main Street.