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 Raymond Lark  (1939 - 2005)

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Lived/Active: California      Known for: figure, genre, political symbolism

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Raymond Lark
An example of work by Raymond Lark
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
American painter, draftsman, watercolorist, and printmaker. Raymond Lark was born to Bertha Lark, a domestic worker in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on June 16, 1939, and rose from a shoe shine boy, farm laborer, junk man, and unskilled factory worker to become a successful artist. Early disadvantages never crushed his will to move up in the world. It is evident that from an early age hi exhibited a tenacious work ethic, and a vision to succeed. Courage, pride, and determination are important components of his life.

As a young child, Dr. Lark demonstrated talent in the arts. At four years old he began to create works inspired by the experiences around him. It was at his nascent stage that he decided to become a visual artist. Through trips to the Philadelphia Museum of Art his desires to pursue art were solidified. Dr. Lark sought formal art training to make his dream of becoming an influential artist a reality.

At age 9, Lark began to study art at the Philadelphia Museum School of Art, after regular public school classes and on Saturdays. He was educated at Temple University Evening College, Dobbins Vocational Night School and St. John's Night College and received his Doctorate from the University of Colorado.

Raymond Lark's career now spans more than 40 years as a professional visual artist. During the Civil Rights movement, Lark lectured widely and produced many writings relating to Black visual artists and the movement. A powerful image he created in 1965, having returned from the March in Washington DC was titled "The March."

In February, 2002, Lark is having an art exhibition in Salt Lake City that will coincide with the 2002 Winter Olympics and the nation's celebration of Black History Month. Titled "Illumination: A Cultural Spectrum, the exhibit is sponsored by the University of Utah's African American Studies Program. Dr. Wilfred Samuels, Director of the Studies Program, is lecturing on the art of Raymond Lark.
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Art for Life's Sake: The drawings and paintings of Raymond Lark. From "Z Magazine", February 1999.

By Paul Von Blum

Since the 19th century, African American artists have devoted extensive attention to storytelling in visual form. Their paintings, drawings, prints, sculptures, and photographs have chronicled the hopes struggles of their people, their neglected African heritage, and their social and political life in the United States. Their artworks have often focused on the long and dishonorable legacy of racism, providing a remarkable body of art that simultaneously expresses resistance to oppression and a vision of a more humane society. In the 20th century, the finest representatives of the African American creative community have added thousands of visual works tot he powerful tradition of humanist art.

Los Angeles in particular has been the locus of several unusually productive members of this community. A major figure for over 30 years is Raymond Lark, an acclaimed and versatile artist whose work is infused with the accumulated experiences of his own life.

Born in Philadelphia in 1939, Lark grew up under extremely trying personal and social circumstances. The son of a domestic worker and a policeman, he lived in a vermin-infested tenement building at an early age. His personal recollections of rats and roaches and of eight families sharing the same toilet facilities left an indelible impression. His mother's mental illness and hospitalization forced him into a dreary succession of foster homes and reform schools. Lark earned money collecting and selling junk, shining shoes, and killing chickens. He also found work as a messenger, a stockroom clerk, a packer and shipper, a typist, and a secretary.

At the age of four, Lark recalls being fascinated by a drum majorette in a Philadelphia Thanksgiving Parade. Returning home, he recreated the image to the immense appreciation of his relatives. He realized then his powerful urge to become an artist. A visit to the Philadelphia Museum of Art a few years later reinforced his desire. At the age of nine, he began formal art training by taking classes at the Museum School after school and on weekends.

Working full time during the day, Lark also continued his educational pursuits. At Temple University Evening College, he continued to study art even while earning a bachelor's degree in business administration. In 1961, Lark moved to Los Angeles, seeking avenues to achieve success as an artist.

Like many new East Coast arrivals, he saw California as a glamorous alternative, glistening with opportunity and excitement. Continuing his artistic training by studying technical illustration at Los Angeles Trade Technical College, he also prepared to earn a living in the commercial world in order to devote time, eventually, to his passion for drawing and painting. Shortly after settling in Los Angeles, he worked as a supervisor at Lockheed Aircraft Company. Here too he encountered the racial hostility of the times. Racial jokes and invective directed against African Americans were commonplace.

He continued to work during the day, finding administrative jobs in business, education, and law. Actively producing his art in the mid to late 1960s, Lark achieved increasing success and recognition. In the early part of his artistic career, he painted portraits earning handsome commissions for his efforts. He also obtained several exhibitions, showing his works highlighting several themes. In several cases, he refrained from attending gallery openings, concealing his won racial heritage form owners and prospective customers. Although he began to make substantial living from sales of his work, he also recalls that the checks stopped coming after he disclosed his African American identity.

Distressed at the egregious omission of African American artists from official art histories and their difficulty in obtaining museum and gallery exhibitions, Lark studied his people's impressive cultural legacy. Even earlier in Philadelphia, he had discovered the pioneering scholarly work of Alain Lock and James Porter, key figures in bringing African American art to broader public attention in the early part of the 20th century.

Lark's emergence as an artist coincided with the vigor and energy of the modern civil rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s. Reflection the era's spirit, he participated in the Los Angeles area arts activism that blossomed in the wake of the Watts rebellion of 1965. That year, he participated in an art exhibition dedicated to the victims of those traumatic and violent events. He undertook a strong leadership role, moreover, in helping other black artists to achieve professional recognition.

In 1967, Lark joined Art West Associated (AWA), a black arts organization in Los Angeles and San Francisco that promoted cultural discussion, organized educational programs, and agitated for recognition and participation in mainstream art institutions. Members were committed to the broader goals of racial justice emerging from national civil rights activities during that time. Among others, such African American artistic luminaries as Charles White, Ruth Waddy, Samella Lewis, John Riddle, Alonzo Davis, and others participants.

During that time, Lark volunteered considerable time in assisting his fellow artists in organizing exhibitions and encouraging their future development. Like his dedication to education, his community service commitment has similarly endured to the present and has powerfully influenced the thematic development of his own artwork. By 1971, he decided to pursue his artistic career fully.

In a dramatic work from 1987, "The Ghetto," Lark uses his favorite medium, a pencil drawing, to reveal the horrific conditions of urban life for millions of unfortunate residents in America. Reminiscent of his own youthful experiences in a decaying Philadelphia tenement building, the drawing highlights a gigantic rat towering over the urban landscape. Deliberately exaggerated, this ominous rodent unnervingly coveys a child's sense of danger and fear.

In "Hunger," produced in 1975, Lark focuses on an aging white man foraging for food, seeking physical sustenance in a society that relegates its poverty-stricken elderly to the status of old junk. Hunger crosses racial and ethnic lines in the United States and elsewhere. For Raymond Lark, what matters above all is the human suffering. The focus on a white victim reinforces an understanding of this deplorable reality and again reveals the breadth and cross-cultural perspective of the artist's vision.
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SPECIAL RECOGNITION
1998. Proclamation and proclaiming November 30, 1998 as Dr. Raymond Lark Day, Mayor Tom Fetzer, for the City of Raleigh, North Carolina.

1994. Proclamation and proclaiming July 15, 1994 as Dr. Raymond Lark Day, Governor William Donald Schaefer, for the State of Maryland.

1993. Certificate of Professional Achievement, International Platform Association (IPA), Washington, DC

1990. Olaudah Equiano Award of Excellence for Pioneering Achievement in African American Culture Ethnic Studies Dept., University of Utah, Salt Lake City

1985. Recipient of the Honorary Degree, Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa, University of Colorado, Boulder.

1980. Gold Medal Award. Academia Italia delle Arti e del Lavora, Parma, Italy.

ONE-MAN EXHIBITIONS
1989-1999. African American Cultural Center, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC., The Art of Raymond Lark: Distinguished African American Artist.

1996. Washington Country Museum of Fine Arts, Hagerstown, Maryland. Paintings and Master Drawings by Raymond Lark.

1995. Springfield Art Museum, Springfield, Missouri. Drawings and Paintings by Raymond Lark

1990. Triton Museum of Art, Santa Clara, California. Painting and Master Drawings by Raymond Lark.

1989. Utah Museum of Fine Arts, Salt Lake City, Utah. Drawings and Paintings by Raymond Lark.

His work is in the private collections of Former President Bill Clinton, General Colin Powell, Bill Gates, former president George Bush and the Ralph Nader Family.
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N E W S R E L E A S E, February 2002:
GOVERNOR MICHAEL O. LEAVITT AND MAYOR ROSS "ROCKY" ANDERSON
HONOR RAYMOND LARK IN UTAH

Utah Governor Michael O. Leavitt and Salt Lake City's Mayor Ross "Rocky"
Anderson recently honored Raymond Lark, visual artist and American scholar, with a Proclamation presented periodically by the people of Utah to an individual whose "outstanding contributions to the world" warrant the highest praise.

Dr. Lark, who is listed in over 950 history books, textbooks, and periodicals, including Who's Who in the World, Who's Who in America, Who's Who Among African Americans, The Artists Bluebook, African American Literature Textbook, and Who's Who in American Art, is currently staging a major exhibition of his paintings, masters drawings and original prints, in
conjunction with the 2002 Winter Games and Black History Month.

This historical exhibition, is being sponsored by the UNIVERSITY OF UTAH'S AFRICAN AMERICAN STUDIES PROGRAM in Salt Lake City, through February 28th, 2002.

During the 2002 Winter Games, the University of Utah as well as many other
establishments which are located on the outskirts of town will be closed, so
another venue for Lark's exhibition had to be found, so instead of this
exhibit being shown on the campus at the University, it is being staged at
the DISTINCTIVE AFRICAN AMERICAN ART CENTER at 161 East Broadway, (300 So.)
which is located downtown in Salt Lake City.
----------------------------------------------------------------------
American painter, draftsman, watercolorist, and printmaker, Raymond Lark was born to Bertha Lark, a domestic worker in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on June 16, 1939, and rose from a shoe shine boy, farm laborer, junkman and unskilled factory worker to become a well-known artist. Early disadvantages never crushed his will to move up in the world, and it is evident that from an early age he exhibited a tenacious work ethic, and a vision to succeed.

Lark's life epitomizes courage, pride and determination. As a young child Dr. Lark demonstrated talent in the arts. At four years old he began to create works inspired by the experiences around him. It was at this nascent stage that he decided to become a visual artist. Through trips to the Philadelphia Museum of Art his desires to pursue art were solidified. Dr. Lark sought formal art training to make his dream of becoming an artist a reality.

At age nine, Lark began to study art at the Philadelphia Museum School of Art, after regular public school classes and on Saturdays. He was educated at Temple University Evening College, Dobbins Vocational Night School, Los Angeles Trade Technical College, and St. John's Night College and received his Doctorate from the University of Colorado. Lark faced the challenges of becoming a visual artist with vigor and enthusiasm.

His career now spans more than 40 years as a professional visual artist. He is listed in numerous history books, textbooks, and periodicals, including Who's Who in the World, Who's Who in America, Who's Who Among African Americans, and Who's Who in American Art. His paintings and master drawings have been shown in many major museums and galleries all over the world.

Recognized as a scholar, Dr. Lark has contributed to numerous treatises on art, education, and the historical development of African Americans. Many of the documents have been translated into many different languages, including French, German, Italian, Hindi, Bengalese, and Spanish.

He has been the recipient of 17 art grants and fellowships, including ARCO Atlantic Richfield Foundation, Coors Beer Foundation, American Express Company, Smithsonian Institution, Colorado Humanities program, Utah Endowment for the Humanities, the State of North Carolina, the City of Baltimore, Maryland, North Dakota Council for the Arts, and The National Endowment for the Arts, among many others.

Dr. Lark has received 77 Proclamations and citations for his performance and leadership in the art world and for his contributions to understanding American and African American art, some of which have come from the NAACP, presidents Nixon, Ford and Carter, and including 14 governors and one from the International Platform Association (IPA) in 1993. He has received a succession of other honors, best-of-the-show cash awards, first prize cash awards, international gold medals, advertisement endorsements and major art commissions.

From 1968 to 1970, Lark served as president of the Art West Associated, Inc., (AWA), the largest professional artists' organization in California with offices in Los Angeles and San Francisco. This association was a meeting place for African American artists actively involved in the Civil Rights movement. Among them were Ruth G. Waddy, Charles White, Dr. Samella Lewis, Bernard Wright, Professor Van E. Slater, David Hammons, Vantile Whitfield, Ben Hazard, Raymond Saunders, E. J. Montgomery, William E. Smith, Daniel Johnson, Wes Hall, John Outterbridge, John J. Riddle, Jr., Richmond Barthé, Alonzo Davis, and more than 100 other artists in California. From 1966 to 1970, traveling exhibitions were organized and shown in major art center in the USA, Western Europe and the former Soviet Union.

Raymond Lark has also served as an artist-in-residence for colleges and universities, as a distinguished juror for major art competitions, as a guest curator for art museums, as a successful entrepreneur, and as an educational director of a college.

In 1964 he became the first black visual artist hired by major television and motion picture studios in the United States. Working for Universal Studios, The Palace of the Living Arts, and the CBS networks, he painted sets, producing background scenery for such television productions as All in the Family, The Carol Burnett Show, Sony and Cher Show, Young and the Restless, Maude and many others.

In 1974, Lark became the first and only visual artist to stage a one-man exhibition at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion Music Center in Los Angeles.

Today, his works are in the private collection of Presidents Bill Clinton and George Bush, Sr., General Colin Powell, Bill Gates, and the Ralph Nader family. Lark's work is found in the public collection of the Pennsylvania State Museum, University of Colorado and the Library of Congress, among many others.

Not limiting his endeavors to writing, research and creating art, Dr. Lark has also been a lecturer. An authority on American and African American history and art, he has lectured and debated at many museums, colleges and universities throughout the United States. He has also appeared on major television news and talk shows.

An American of African descent, he has chosen subjects for his work that cut across racial and ethnic lines, as well as age and socio-economic boundaries, to present the beauty of the brotherhood of mankind. Ray has lived the lives of many of his subjects and tries to delineate them with sympathetic understanding, honesty, empathy, and sometimes humor.

He works in a number of mediums, including oils, graphite, watercolors, pastels, crayon, mixed-media, colored pencils, markers, silk screen and woodcuts. Lark is best known for his super-real images on paper and canvas of figure, symbolism, and genre including politics

Source:
Edward Smith, Ph.D., Director, Edward Smith & Company

** If you discover credit omissions or have additional information to add, please let us know at registrar@AskART.com.


Raymond Lark is also mentioned in these AskART essays:
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