Celebrating the Art of John Clemmer


HOUMA, La. (WGNO) —There is a new exhibition at The Historic New Orleans Collection that honors the life and legacy of the artist, John Clemmer.

John Clemmer had close to seven decades of artistic influence over the city of New Orleans with his career. He helped to develop young artists through his art and his teaching. He taught art at Tulane and became the only artist to have been a student, teacher, and director at the Arts and Crafts Club’s School.

Judith Bonner is Senior Curator at the exhibition and says, “he was a quiet man. He was reserved. He was self-assuming but very cerebral. In this exhibition, what we’re doing is, we’re exhibiting the work that was in the French Quarter in the beginning and how important that was to the culture of the city.”

Clemmer was well-versed with a variety of mediums and styles. He made Mardi Gras masks for carnival crews and excelled in the styles of figures, abstract art, cubism, geometrics, self-portraits, impressionism, and still lifes. He also was an accomplished sculptor.

The exhibition has two separate galleries. One room shows Clemmer’s art. The other is a room full of the works of 77 artists who were either influenced by Clemmer or influenced Clemmer themselves.

Jan Gilbert is a renowned artist, art professor and curator, who has a piece displayed in the exhibition. Gilbert was inspired by her father, who was a major league baseball player, as well as her mentor John Clemmer. The piece shows darkness and light through a photograph, with the imposed crayon-written words that originally read, “I dream about him.” In the art, that message is changed to read, “I am him.” It is a very powerful message of how in a sense, we assume the qualities of those who inspire us the most.

“When I was in my 20’s, I went to Tulane for graduate school. John Clemmer was the Chair of the Art Department. I watched how he revisits his pieces and he listens. He looks. He observes. He’s watching reality. He’s watching what the painting is going to tell him,” says Jan Gilbert.

The exhibition is many things. One can look at each of the works of art numerous times and pick up something new with each new encounter. However, regardless of whether visitors have an artists’ eyes or not; everyone can make use of sensing the world with an artists’ heart.

“It was about living your life with radical amazement. You appreciate the fullness of the moment, the richness of the moment, and the wonder of the moment” says Jan Gilbert.

Judith Bonner says, “I think that the works in this exhibition are inspiring. I want to go home and paint!”

The John Clemmer exhibition with be on display at The Historic New Orleans Collection until November.

To purchase a copy of the book, John Clemmer: A Legacy in Art, click here.

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