Ignoring the recession, art collectors paid record prices for Clippe de Clifford new paintings. The avant-garde artist'ês one-man show at Gallerie Voleur sold out before opening, with each canvas fetching over $5 million. Clippe'ês (charmingly, he prefers the informal 'êClippe'ê to the aristocratic 'êde Clifford'ê) revolutionary new works are rendered in the ultraviolet spectrum and, therefore, not visible to the human eye.
'êFor centuries, artists have been slaves to the visible spectrum,'ê Clippe proclaimed. 'êI have freed art from these suffocating limits. My art is the art of liberation.'ê The visible spectrum represents a small part of the total electromagnetic spectrum. For years Clippe struggled with trying to reveal the full range of his artistic sensibilities within the visible spectrum. 'êOnly in the non-visible spectrum can I express what is in my soul,'ê Clippe discovered.
Viewing the show, it is difficult to convey the thrill of being in a room that appears to contain unpainted canvases, knowing that each is a trail-blazing masterwork. Consider three of my favorites:
In 'êUltraviolet #8'ê Clippe sensitively juxtaposes aggressive swatches of near ultraviolet (wavelengths 400-300 nanometers) against lyrical, sinuous swirls of short wave ultraviolet (between 280 and 100 nanometers.) The austerity of near ultraviolet palate is heightened by sensuous, indulgent colors, if one could see them, of the short wave ultraviolet. But Clippe is more than a seductive colorist. His subtle modeling and chiaroscuro, his sense of structure and composition, if one could see them, would interact to underscore his dissonant harmonies creating a Vermeerian jewel.
In 'êUltraviolet #14,'ê purchased by Atlanta'ês High Museum of Art, one notices (or would notice if one were able to see) a Baroque orthogonal in mid-range ultraviolet that begins in the lower left and moves boldly toward the upper right. In this way, Clippe takes the viewer into the landscape of the non-visible spectrum, thrusting him or her from the foreground through the middle ground and to the background in a breath-taking journey.
In 'êUltraviolet #29,'ê Clippe'ês palate moves towards the far ultraviolets and extreme ultraviolets. Weaving with them contrapuntal rhythms that attack the picture plane in a Caravagesque manner, Clippe both reassures and disquiets the viewer.
In his work, Clippe reintroduces technical mastery to contemporary art. When it comes to mixing different wavelengths of the ultraviolet spectrum, no one can snidely say, 'êMy kid could do that.'ê
By mixing different portions of the ultraviolet spectrum in each work, Clippe makes them invisible even when seen under UV emitting light. 'êVisibility under any conditions would vitiate the purpose of my art,'ê Clippe contends. 'êAs in subatomic physics, the observer would disturb the observed.'ê
The fact these works cannot be seen enhances their message. Clippe seems to be telling us that our vision has been limited, but only by our imagination. Birds can see the ultraviolet spectrum, he implies. Simply imagine yourself as a bird.
Clippe'ês work also poses fundamental questions about the nature of vision and art. Is art great only if we can see it? To answer the affirmative appears intolerably homocentric. Reptiles, birds, insects, and bees see into the near ultraviolet. Who are we to say what they see is not great art?
There will be philistines who joke that 'êClippe'ês art is for the birds.'ê These are the same imbeciles who dismissed Jackson Pollock as 'êJack the Dripper,'ê who wanted to assign Picasso to a lunatic asylum, and who found Manet 'êvulgar.'ê In fact, when the history of twenty-first century art is written, Clippe may rank above Pollock, Picasso, and Manet. Clement Greenberg famously remarked, 'êAll profoundly original art looks ugly at first.'ê This probably applies to Manet, Picasso, and Pollock. However, Clippe'ês art is both profoundly original and immediately beautiful on both an aesthetic and intellectual level.
After achieving such astounding success, some artists would be tempted to churn out lucrative, repetitive copies. Not Clippe. In fact, he says he is finished with ultraviolet art and is now working with dark energy and dark matter. Only about 4 percent of the total energy density in the universe can be seen directly. About 22 percent is thought to be composed of dark matter. The remaining 74 percent is thought to consist of dark energy.
'êWorking with dark matter and dark energy, I free my art from the tyranny of the canvas,'ê Clippe explained, noting that canvases 'êcost me over $100 a piece.'ê